Abu Dhabi claimed their third win of the in-port series on Saturday, while Groupama took a strong second to pile more pressure on overall race leaders Team Telefónica.
While Ian Walker's Abu Dhabi cemented their reputation as formidable in-shore contenders and took six points for the victory in the 10-leg, 8.2 nautical mile PORTMIAMI In-Port Race, French team Groupama scored a valuable five.
That took them to within seven points of Telefónica, who trailed in last after apparently hitting a mark and being forced to make a penalty turn.
In an incredible finish PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG finished third by edging out CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand within metres of the finish line, to finish just nine seconds ahead.
Team Sanya finished fifth to score two points, while Team Telefónica scored just one point for sixth place, making them wide open to attacks from their opponents on the overall leaderboard with 165 points.
"That was a pretty strange race," Abu Dhabi skipper Ian Walker said. "I have to say our crew work got us back in the race. It feels great. We've had a tough time.
"The last in-port race we had no training time, this time we made an effort to have two training days and it paid off.
"We made a good start which is always a good help, and for sure our crew work was very good and that makes a big difference."
PUMA and Sanya led off the line at the pin end followed closely by Groupama and Abu Dhabi who opted for self-confident port-start with speed, leaving CAMPER struggling under a smaller jib, raising questions of a problem.
On the first beat parallel to Miami Beach it was Telefónica who stamped their intent early, picking a near perfect lay-line and leading around the top mark. Abu Dhabi rounded just six seconds behind, followed by Groupama, Sanya, CAMPER and PUMA, who struggled on to hold course.
Groupama made their move under spinnaker, rolling Abu Dhabi by the second mark in the 10 to 15 knot breeze. The French team continued their charge on a short and sharp reach to take the lead, followed by Telefónica, Abu Dhabi, Sanya, CAMPER and PUMA, just one minute and 20 seconds behind.
Telefónica continued to struggle and were overtaken by Abu Dhabi, who took second place on the third leg. In a desperate bid, Telefónica and CAMPER made a bold split from the fleet, heading offshore as the breeze continued to moderate.
The move proved a major fail, costing Telefónica another position, with Sanya edging ahead into third place at the fifth mark. Meanwhile, Franck Cammas’ men continued their domination extending their lead over Ian Walker’s crew to almost one minute.
As spinnakers were again popped on leg 6, positions came under threat and intensified at the congested mark rounding, where Telefónica were forced to do a penalty turn for hitting the mark.
After a quickfire short reach, Groupama solidified their lead, followed by Abu Dhabi, while the remainder of the fleet continued a messy scrap. But the race wasn’t over yet, as the breeze lightened a shortened course was called and Abu Dhabi took thelead and held it to the end.
For Abu Dhabi it was another glorious inshore win but last place spelled misery for Telefónica as they saw their overall lead whittled down even further.
"It didn’t’ go according to plan -- well the first bit did, but then it went downhill," said Telefónica's Neal McDonald.
"It’s so easy to lose places with all these good guys behind you. You only have to make one slip up and one boat goes by, then another boat goes by and then you’re in last place. It’s tough. Heartbreaking."
The sailors and shore crews are now turning their sights on the final preparations for the 3,500 nm Leg 7 race from Miami to Lisbon, Portugal starting on Sunday.
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