Volvo Ocean Race: Puma clinches second
Puma Ocean Racing powered by Berg won the epic battle for second place on the Volvo Ocean Race's fourth leg on a rainy morning in Auckland to complete a memorable comeback and secure their first offshore podium place in the 2011-12 round the world race.
Coming down the east coast of New Zealand, Puma was nursing a slim advantage over the chasing pack, with just 40 nautical miles separating her from back marker Sanya, as a tense, tactical race for the best way to play the currents and to avoid wind holes raged through the night.
Puma managed to protect their lead, coming in at 10:33:47 UTC with a total elapsed time for leg four of 20 days 3 hours 57 minutes over the two stages, which began back on February 19 in Sanya, China with a short race around the bay and a delay to keep the fleet from the worst of the conditions in the South China Sea.
"My God, I feel good to be in Auckland," said Puma's skipper Ken Read after the team had received a traditional Maori welcome into the harbour. "From day one of this leg, ever since we sailed into the South China Sea, it's been tough. I know that's what we signed up for but man this was a challenging leg. This result is something we can build on. We just wish we had a couple more weeks to hang around in Auckland."
Puma started the leg with a 39 minute deficit after being hit by a windless patch while leading on stage 1 and watching the fleet sail past them. Out into the Pacific Puma pulled off a bold tactical move heading northeast, away from Auckland and sailing around the fleet in stronger breeze pulling them up to second with Groupama still ahead on day seven.
Puma's result confirms that Read's team is back in business after the broken mast that saw them forced to retire from Leg 1, and gave them little time to prepare for Leg 2.
The US team was followed into the City of Sails by Telefónica just under 50 minutes later, taking third, after holding off Camper in a scrap that continued gybe-for-gybe all the way to the finish line. The Spanish team crossed the finish line just 93 seconds ahead of Camper - a tiny margin after a leg that took the teams over 5,220 nautical miles from Sanya in China to Auckland.
"It's a really good result," said Telefónica skipper Iker Martínez. "The level is so high that to get on the podium is very difficult. The teams are so strong."
Camper skipper Chris Nicholson was not too downhearted after just failing to overtake Telefónica in a race that was as close as their run in to the finish in the Maldives on Leg 2. "It was a really close race but we just ran out of runway at the end," said Nicholson, whose CAMPER team count Auckland as one of their two base ports. "It was the toughest leg so far. Now we're really tired and we're just looking forward to being home."
After leading the early part of leg 2, Camper's hopes of challenging for the lead ultimately suffered a devastating blow when they tore their J2 headsail, losing 60 miles to Groupama in the process.
As an indication of just how much the fleet has compressed in the last three days, the Ian Walker-skippered Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing came in just under 34 minutes later to take fifth, with Sanya the sixth boat in just over 35 minutes after that.
"I don't really know what we could have done better to improve our position," said Abu Dhabi skipper Ian Walker. "We got up to third place at one point. It was disappointing to finish fifth and now it's time for some downwind sailing."
Sanya, was 393 nm from the leader on day 17, but finished within 30 nm of Puma on the final morning - not quite close enough to challenge for a podium place, but satisfying to have been part of te almighty scrap. "It's very cool to be home and to have everyone out supporting us," said skipper Mike Sanderson. "I couldn't be any more proud of the leg we sailed. The fact that we kept up with and finished so close to the new boats just shows that we can be competitive."
Thousands of fans jammed into spectator craft to welcome the boats in and thousands more packed Auckland Viaduct Harbour after a drag race through the churning water completed a fantastic set of arrivals to mark the race's return to the city after a gap of 10 years.
Telefónica now lead the overall standings with 121 points despite losing their perfect record offshore. Groupama has 103 points and take over second place from Camper, now back in third on 98, with Puma fourth on 78.
Leg 4 elapsed times:
|1||Groupama||Franck Cammas||019d 15h 35m 54s|
|2||Puma||Ken Read||020d 03h 57m 50s|
|3||Telefonica||Iker Martinez||020d 04h 45m 22s|
|4||Camper||Chris Nicholson||020d 04h 46m 55s|
|5||Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing||Ian Walker||020d 05h 20m 35s|
|6||Sanya||Mike Sanderson||020d 05h 55m 43s|
|Pos||Team||Skipper||Leg 4 points||Overall|
|5||Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing||Ian Walker||10||
Photos above from Marc Bell/Volvo Ocean Race and below from Ian Roman: