Groupama scored their first inshore win of the 2011-12 Volvo Ocean Race after an uncharacteristic error from overall race leaders Team Telefónica handed them their chance in the DHL In-Port Race Itajaí.
In one of the most highly charged battles of the inshore series so far, Telefónica made a mistake while leading the fleet when they sailed the wrong way round the course. Their slip-up, which came halfway through the race, relegated Iker Martínez’s crew to the back of the pack and ended their hopes of a third in-port win.
Meanwhile, closest rivals Groupama sailing team were given a free pass to jump into the lead, chased closely by Camper with Emirates Team New Zealand. Despite constant pressure from their Kiwi/Spanish opponents, Franck Cammas’ crew on Groupama refused to relinquish their hold on the top spot, beating Camper by 48 seconds.
Groupama’s win takes them to 133 points, and within 16 points of Telefónica on the overall leaderboard. Camper with Emirates Team New Zealand claimed second place and five points, finishing just one minute and five seconds ahead of Puma Ocean Racing powered by Berg, who clawed back despite being forced to do a penalty in the opening minute of the race.
Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing finished fourth, scoring three points, while Telefónica were unable to recover from their mid-race error and finished last, claiming just two points. Team Sanya did not start and will rejoin the race in Miami.
"I'm very happy because we saw a big improvement in this kind of inshore race from where we were at in Alicante," Groupama skipper Cammas said. "We've shown we can win. It's always the boat who makes the fewest mistakes who wins."
Camper continued their in-port form with another podium finish, their fifth in six races, to keep their dreams of ascending the leaderboard alive.
"You didn’t see us set the world on fire but we didn’t make too many big mistakes," skipper Chris Nicholson said. "We had flawless crew work - the bottom drops the guys were pulling off were fantastic and allowed us to stay in the game. It was good racing from everybody today."
An incredible comeback from Puma saw them recover from last place to finish just behind Camper. Ken Read’s men led over the start line but a penalty from the on-the-water umpires for a rule infringement appeared to have ended their hopes of winning, sending them to the back of the fleet.
But renowned inshore racer Read clawed his way back into the race, overhauling Telefónica and Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing, and challenging Camper for second. Abu Dhabi took fourth, just 36 hours after their yacht Azzam arrived in Itajaí on a container ship after suffering structural damage on Leg 5. Telefónica were left to limp across the line in fifth, five minutes behind Groupama.
"After we rounded the windward mark it was very confusing," explained skipper Martínez. "There were two marks and I chose the wrong one. It's the first time in my life I've ever made a mistake like that so I feel terrible for the shore crew who had worked so hard but the good news is that we had made many improvements since the last inshore race."
Leg 6 to Miami starts today with light winds are forecast for the start of the 4,800-mile leg, although within a few hours of leaving Itajaí the breeze is expected to top 25 knots.