Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing's Azzam led home the three Volvo Open 70s in the Rolex Fastnet Race in a monohull record time of one day 18 hours 39 minutes, winning a thrilling duel with Groupama 4 in the battle of the two brand new boats, with Team Sanya in third.
"Our performances are very similar and it bodes well for some almighty battles in the round the world race."
Britain's double Olympic silver medallist Ian Walker had the satisfaction of seeing Azzam finish four minutes ahead of Groupama 4, skippered by Franck Cammas, in the 608-nautical mile sprint from Cowes to Plymouth via the Fastnet Rock off the southern tip of Ireland.
Team Sanya, skippered by New Zealand's Mike Sanderson and racing in the refitted Telefónica Blue from the Volvo Ocean Race 2008-09, could not quite compete with the other two teams' heavy air speed, finished just short of an hour behind.
1. Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing 1 day 18 hours 39 minutes
2. Groupama Sailing Team 1 day 18 hours 43 minutes
3. Team Sanya 1 day 19 hours 38 minutes
All three times were inside the record monohull time of one day 20 hours 18 minutes set by ICAP Leopard in 2007. Leopard also competed in the current race as did fellow 100-footer Rambler 100 who capsized after losing her keel bulb. All 21 crew members were rescued in an operation co-ordinated by the Irish coastguard.
Speaking in Plymouth Ian Waker said he was pleased with the performance of his boat and his crew during the tough conditions of the Fastnet Race and delighted to have taken the course record.
“I’m very pleased. It was a very close race throughout and my biggest feeling is one of relief that we now know that we are competitive. This is a big boost for everyone in the team, the sailors and all of the shore crew who prepared the boat so well. Taking the course record is cool. I have never really been in a position to win records before. I suspect this particular record might not last too long though.”
The battle for overall supremacy between the Volvo Ocean Race teams was closely fought throughout the race. Groupama 4 shrugged off an early problem with their keel mechanism and were vying for the lead with both Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing and Team Sanya as the boats exited the confines of the Solent. After racing in close formation all the way along the English south coast, Team Sanya took the lead at Land’s End with a crafty tactical short cut which saved them eight miles on their rivals.
As the breeze steadily increased on the long leg out towards the southeast tip of Ireland, the newer boats eased into the lead, with Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing trailing Groupama by just five minutes as they rounded the Fastnet Rock. The boats set a blistering pace on the return leg from the Fastnet Rock with 30 knot winds on the second night.
"It was extremely interesting to be face to face with our future rivals and Abu Dhabi in particular," said Groupama skipper Franck Cammas. "Our performances are very similar and it bodes well for some almighty battles in the round the world race. Abu Dhabi appears to be a well-designed and well-considered boat in a fair number of ways."
Sanya could not quite challenge for victory in the end but to finish so close to the new boats was quite an achievement for a team that only entered the race seven weeks ago.
"Overall it was a good experience that we can be pleased with as a team," said Mike Sanderson, skipper of underdogs Team Sanya.
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