SAINT-MALO, FRA – Skipper Xabi Fernández (ESP) and his spot-on MAPFRE team claimed their second victory in Leg Zero qualifying with another commanding performance in the buildup to the Volvo Ocean Race. This one was big. MAPFRE had a lead of seven nautical miles when it crossed the finish line at 0629 UTC today off Saint-Malo, France.
The Spanish team has a three-point advantage over Team Brunel at the top of the Leg Zero standings, with two wins and a runner-up finish in three races, with one to go. While an overall winner will be declared, no points will be carried forward to the Volvo Ocean Race itself, which starts Oct. 22 from Alicante, ESP.
“It’s a very good result for us, and it’s been a really good leg for us from beginning to end,” Fernández said.
Team Brunel took second place in its first race sailing with new recruit Peter Burling (NZL), the winning America’s Cup helmsman and Olympic gold medalist whose signing was announced just hours before the fleet's departure from England's south coast.
Dongfeng Race Team, the Chinese entry with a French skipper, Charles Caudrelier, completed the podium to maintain their excellent form in the series, followed by Vestas 11th Hour Racing, Team AkzoNobel, Turn the Tide on Plastic and Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag.
MAPFRE’s latest victory was barely in doubt in a race they dominated following a decisive moment shortly after the start from Plymouth.
“We made some good choices going offshore, finding the sea breeze and beating the current, as we watched the other teams struggle with the current. I’m really pleased with our result,’’ Fernandez said.
MAPFRE chose to dive south with Vestas 11th Hour Racing and Turn the Tide on Plastic. The others chose a route down the coast that required an exhausting gybing duel. When the fleet came back together, the offshore option had paid off, and Brunel and Dongfeng Race Team switched sides to choose the southern option with MAPFRE and Vestas 11th Hour Racing.
The fleet then had to negotiate a barrier of light winds that blocked the route. The calms were narrower in the south and the four boats that had invested in this option slowed but continued moving whereas Sun Hung Kai/ Scallywag went backward on the tide, completely becalmed.
After the turning mark by the Needles and a drag race across the English Channel, the boats reached the tidal acceleration zone next to the French coast. The speeds on every boat jumped from 13 to 19 knots as they were pushed by a river of current in the ocean. From there, MAPFRE was never challenged.
It was Burling’s first experience racing a one-design Volvo Ocean 65. He said the short race to France was the perfect introduction to the Volvo Ocean Race.
“It’s been great to get out and race. I have a lot to learn but Leg Zero is a really good way for me to ease into this,” Burling said. “I think we’re in good stead for the future considering how little training this team has done.”
Leg Zero, Stage 3 results, Plymouth to Saint-Malo:
1. MAPFRE elapsed time, 0629 UTC
2. Team Brunel, 0710
3. Dongfeng Race Team, 0719
4. Vestas 11th Hour Racing, 0728
5. Team AkzoNobel, 0732
6. Turn the Tide on Plastic, 0835
7. Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag, 0908
French sailing fans will get to see the fleet in the inner harbor before a non-scoring Pro-Am Race on Saturday.
The teams will complete Leg Zero qualifying with a race from Saint-Malo to Lisbon starting Sunday at 1050 UTC, with an ETA of Wednesday.
Overall Leg Zero standings after three of four races:
1. MAPFRE, 23 points
2. Team Brunel, 20
3. Dongfeng Race Team, 19
4. Team AkzoNobel, 15
5. Vestas 11th Hour Racing, 12
6. Turn the Tide on Plastic, 9
7. Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag, 7
MAPFRE and skipper Xabi Fernández dominated the Volvo Ocean Race fleet in the third stage of Leg Zero across the English Channel from Plymouth to Saint-Malo.