Four legs of the Volvo Ocean Race (VOR) and four different winners. It is the kind of competitiveness and even playing field race organisers would have had in mind when introducing the one-design boat to the race.
It was yet another close finish which saw the Spanish Team Mapfre sail into Auckland as winners of the leg, just four minutes ahead of Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing's Azzam. Four minutes farther behind were Race Team Dongfeng, the fleet arriving into the spiritual home of the race late into Saturday night. Over 5,264 nautical miles those differences were minute.
Azzam’s second-place finish meant they now sit top of the overall leader board, joint on points with Dongfeng but ahead by dint of finishing this leg ahead of their nearest rivals.
As they sailed into dock, skipper Ian Walker hoisted the overall leader flag, a finish that would have eased the disappointment of not winning the leg outright. Azzam was leading as late as the final day of the leg, only to be overtaken by Mapfre - that was the 28th change of leadership through one of the most exciting and closely-fought legs of the race.
“It feels good, very good right now,” Walker said on the finish. “It was a very exciting finish, a nerve-racking finish. Really the leg was decided on a couple of clouds and nothing more than that.”
The finish provided further proof of Azzam’s remarkable consistency, as it meant they were the only team to finish on the podium in every one of the legs and in-port races so far, nearly halfway through the race.
It also marked a remarkable turnaround for Mapfre, who had finished last in Cape Town on the first leg and had to change skippers after two legs, Xabi Fernandez replacing Iker Martinez.
“Super happy, supper happy,” Xabi said. “It was a very tough leg, a very tough last few days especially.
“We were struggling with Abu Dhabi and Dongfeng at the beginning, we were a bit slower, and in the Doldrums too. And this morning we saw them very close and managed to pass them. Since then we led the whole way.”
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