Dongfeng’s American dream became a reality just after dark local time (early hours 7th May UTC), winning leg 6 of the Volvo Ocean Race in Newport, USA, beating their arch rivals Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing by just 3 minutes and 25 seconds.
Skipper Charles Caudrelier immediately dedicated this leg win to his shore team: “I would like to dedicate this victory to the shore team. It started in Ushuaia with the shore crew, when first they delivered the boat to Itajai and then fixed the boat and put in a new mast in less than one week. They worked so hard to have the boat ready – I am very proud of them. Everyone on the boat for this leg did a fantastic job and that was the key to winning, for sure. All the team deserves this victory. All the crew have improved, the Chinese improve, we get stronger and stronger each time. To beat Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing shows we have become a great team.”
In many ways there was more at stake for Dongfeng – Abu Dhabi were going to be happy with a 2nd in terms of overall points. But for Dongfeng the energy gained from the comeback was worth more than just the points of victory.
The leg from Itajai, Brazil to Newport, USA has been by no means straightforward. A broken water maker 24 hours into the leg nearly threatened the team’s hopes and dreams, but the indefatigable Kevin Escoffier (Mr Fixit) managed to make a repair that lasted. Then it was head back into the race and by day 7, the Chinese team were in the lead with 3,364nm to go: “It was a complicated leg, we had a big advantage in speed sometimes, not easy to make the right tactical decisions all the time, so speed was so important. We had something like 10 lead changes. We gained slowly a small advance but every time the other guys came back. Abu Dhabi sailed very well – we made a mistake one or two nights ago – we were 10 miles ahead but they got ahead again and we lost a lot. And then they were ahead of us just two or three hours ago when we hit a light spot. It was just crazy but we had a nice fight with them!”
It was always a question mark as to whether Dongfeng could bounce back after being forced to retire from Leg 5 with a broken mast. “I have never seen the gang so focused and intense,” said American Onboard Reporter, Sam Greenfield. “When we won leg 3 into Sanya our lead was comfortable. This time Abu Dhabi was right over our shoulder and breathing down our dry-seals [necks].”
In one of the most intense finishes the Volvo Ocean Race 2014-15 has ever seen, the identical boats and sheer determination of both teams ensured it was a neck and neck battle lasted right up to the finish line. It was clear that both teams were giving it everything they had with every ounce of energy they had left as they approached the finish.
With only three short legs remaining, and a commanding points lead, the race is Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing’s to lose. “Now we still have to push hard – this was the first step to come back in the race after the 8 points we got breaking the mast,” said Kevin Escoffier. “We still have three legs to come back on Abu Dhabi and I hope they will do a mistake and we can be better than them. For sure they have not made many but statistically they can. Its not over.”
Leg 6 Top three results
- DONGFENG/Charles Caudrelier/02:03:00 UTC
- ABU DHABI OCEAN RACING/Ian Walker/02:06:25 UTC
- TEAM BRUNEL/Bouwe Bekking/02:56:40 UTC
Photo Credit: Ainhoa Sanchez/Volvo Ocean Race
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