13th Volvo Ocean Race – Leg Zero; August 2-16, 2017. SPANISH TEAM MAPFRE won overall Leg Zero honours ahead of China’s Dongfeng Race Team in the build-up to the 2017-18 Volvo Ocean Race, which starts from Alicante, Spain on October 22.
<b>PHOTOS</b>: UGO FONOLLA, AINHOA SANCHEZ / VOLVO OCEAN RACE
Vestas 11th Hour Racing, a USA/Denmark campaign, won Leg Zero’s fourth and final stage, which started from Saint-Malo in northwest France and had been due to finish in Lisbon, Portugal, before it was cut short due to lack of wind.
Vestas 11th Hour Racing took the win with the shortest distance to finish, team AkzoNobel of the Netherlands were second and Mapfre secured third place as well as overall victory.
Mapfre skipper Xabi Fernández said: “I think it was a good decision (to shorten the stage) because this Leg Zero was already becoming quite long. It has been very interesting. We’ve done a lot of training over the winter and I think we’ve seen that we sail very well.
“We’ll have a good rest because it has been a lot of work over this last month, then we’ll work on the small details of the boat, do the last push in the gym, make sure everyone is healthy and be focused on the start.”
No points were at stake in Leg Zero, which was introduced to give the teams time in racing conditions before the eight-month round-the world campaign.
Mapfre had recorded two wins either side of a runners-up spot in the first three Leg Zero stages: the Round the Island Race as part of Lendy Cowes Week in England, the Rolex Fastnet Race and a cross-channel sprint from Plymouth to Saint-Malo.
In Cowes, Mapfre set a new monohull record of 3hrs 13mins 11secs for the race around the Isle of Wight.
In the Rolex Fastnet Race, Dongfeng Race Team edged out Mapfre by just 56 seconds after an intense night of lead changes and fickle winds ended with the seven-strong fleet of Volvo Oceans 65s separated by less than 40 minutes following more than 600 miles of racing.
Mapfre then resumed their winning form as they dominated the sprint from Plymouth to Saint-Malo.
Team Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag, the race’s first-ever Hong Kong entry, finished last in Leg Zero, having had less than a week of training before the start.
Australian skipper David Witt said: “The racing on Leg Zero has shown us what we’re strong at, what we’re weak at. Mapfre have dominated, they’ve shown everybody how strong they are and they’ve set the bar where we’ve all got to get to.
“We are not weak in all areas – there are some areas we are quite good at. It’s good to find this out now rather than on Leg 2 of the race and now we’ve got a few weeks to fix it. I’ve got a pretty good idea how to fix it and we’ve just got to get on with it.” Witt’s crew includes compatriots Luke Parkinson, who won the trophy onboard Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing in the last edition, and navigator Steve Hayles, who returns to the event after competing in five consecutive races from 1993-94 to 2008-09.
Australian trio David Mann, Alex Gough and Ben Piggott are also in the squad along with New Zealand’s Mark Fullerton, who raced with Brunel in the 2005-06 edition, Briton John Fisher and Hong Kong local Tiger Mok.
Other teams have recruited Olympic gold medallists. AkzoNobel signed up Brazil’s Martine Grael, who clinched gold in Rio 2016 with Kahena Kunze in the 49er FX Class.
Peter Burling joined Team Brunel after skippering New Zealand to victory in this year’s America’s Cup, having won gold in Rio last year. Blair Tuke, his America’s Cup and Olympics teammate, is onboard Mapfre.
Meanwhile, Nansha Marina activated its Volvo Ocean Race 2017-18 Guangzhou Stopover Countdown clock on July 28. The international fleet will be in Guangzhou from January 31-February 5, 2018.
Team Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag
Leg Zero: Overall Final Rankings:
1. Mapfre (29 points)
2. Dongfeng Race Team (24 points)
3. Team Brunel (23 points)
4. Team AkzoNobel (22 points)
5. Vestas 11th Hour Racing (20 points)
6. Turn the Tide on Plastic (13 points)
7. Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag (9 points)