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VOR: Dongfeng Race Team leads fleet down Solent in Rolex Fastnet Race

COWES, ENG – Dongfeng Race Team sped down the western Solent on Sunday to lead the fleet of Volvo Ocean 65s at the start of the Rolex Fastnet Race, which is the second part of the "Leg Zero" qualifying series for the 2017-18 Volvo Ocean Race.

With 2.5 knots of outgoing tide against 18 to 21 knots of southwesterly wind, the Chinese team, skippered by Charles Caudrelier, secured its lead by expertly covering the rest of the tightly bunched fleet.

The two red boats, MAPFRE and Dongfeng Racing, won the start but the Spanish team was held up by bad wind coming off NIKATA, the biggest boat in the race at 115 feet. All the VOR teams were challenged by having to sail around the record 390-boat fleet in the 605-nautical mile offshore classic.

Sailing in a mixed boat fleet will not be a challenge after this section of Leg Zero. Following the Fastnet, the Volvo Ocean Race fleet will complete two more legs, Plymouth to Saint-Malo and Saint-Malo to Lisbon, without other boats as a distraction or hindrance.

The opening leg of Leg Zero was a sprint around the Isle of Wight, won in record time by MAPFRE.

The Fastnet is the first offshore test for the teams that will start their round-the-world jaunt from Alicante, ESP, on Oct. 22.

"It’s the first time we are all going to sail offshore against the other boats so it’s important to see where we are among the other boats,” Caudrelier said. “It’s a good race to train, to start racing together."

As the boats reached the famous chalk cliffs of the Needles, Dongfeng was trailed by Vestas 11th Hour Racing and MAPFRE. Team AkzoNobel, Team Brunel, Team Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag and Turn the Tide on Plastic were closely grouped behind.

The fleet will face stable upwind conditions until Land’s End, where scrambled winds from an old cold front, as well as strong tides, await. This transition could split the fleet, with opportunities for more experienced teams to react faster to the changing circumstances.

While a Leg Zero winner will be declared, no points will be carried through to the VOR itself, meaning there’s particular value in the series for some of the later teams to enter.

David Witt, skipper of Team Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag, said: “The longer we can sail in the same water as MAPFRE and Dongfeng, the more we’re going to learn. Just don’t expect us to set the world on fire until the real stuff happens.”

The boats are due at the Fastnet Rock on Tuesday morning. They’ll then sail in downwind conditions predicted to build from 15 to 20 knots before a reach to the finish in Plymouth late Tuesday night.

The fleet will re-start from Plymouth to Saint-Malo on Thursday.

Dongfeng Race Team leads the Volvo Ocean Race down the Solent in the Rolex Fastnet Race.