There is a new leader at the head of the Volvo Ocean Race leaderboard and for skipper Charles Caudrelier and his Dongfeng Race Team, the top ranking couldn’t come at a better time.
Just two legs remain in the 45,000 nautical mile race around the planet, and as the sprint to the finish comes into focus, Dongfeng now holds a narrow one point lead over MAPFRE, its Spanish rivals who have led the race for all but two of the nine legs to date.
The hard-charging Team Brunel is also now just three points behind, and with a maximum of 16 points available for winning the final two legs, a wide range of scenarios could play out that would see any of the top three teams walk away with the overall title when the race finishes in The Hague at the end of the month.
Caudrelier however has a simple way of looking at his team’s potentially precarious position at the top of the table.
“Stop thinking about math and the points,” he says. “Just win.”
It’s a motivating sentiment, but is easier said than done. Dongfeng Race Team has reached the pinnacle of the race rankings through consistent finishes in the top half of the fleet on each stage of the race.
But the Chinese flagged team has yet to win a leg. For Caudrelier there couldn’t be a better time to wipe that anomaly from the Dongfeng storyline and add a win to his team’s race accomplishments.
“Winning this next leg would be very important for any of the three leading teams,” he allows. “But we haven’t won a leg yet and we’d love to do that. The pressure is maximum but we have to deal with it.”
In truth, holding the lead is where any of the top three teams would like to be and there is plenty of pressure to share across the podium.
Xabi Fernández’s MAPFRE for example, has led for the vast majority of the race, but has struggled to stay in top form over the past eight weeks. This is the second time in three legs the Spanish squad has surrendered the overall lead to Dongfeng.
In contrast, Bouwe Bekking’s Team Brunel started the race slowly but has been on fire of late, posting a 1-2-1 scoreline on the past three outings with both wins coming on the final two double-point scoring legs.
Suddenly, the yellow boat isn’t just a threat for the podium, but can see a way forward to snatch the outright lead on the veteran Bekking’s eighth attempt to grab the title.
Caudrelier says the emergence of Brunel as a legitimate contender means Dongfeng can no longer afford to spend all of its attention watching MAPFRE, a change in strategy compared to most of the race.
“The good thing is now that Brunel is in the party we can’t just focus on the red boats. We have to be ahead of both of these two guys, so we have to try and win the legs,” he says.
“We really have to take the lead and not just follow the others. The others must follow us. We are not going to watch them too much, as it is now the two boats against us, not just the one.”
At this stage of the race fatigue and injuries begin to take a toll and can play a part in the final outcome. But Caudrelier insists his team is fighting fit and motivated for the sprint to the finish.
“We are close to reaching our dream and what we have been working towards for so long, so this is the best way to stay motivated, to think about the result.”