The full complement of six will be on the start line Sunday in Male in the Maldives, the secret safe haven being used by the Volvo round the world race, for the re-start of the third leg to Sanya on Hainan Island in China.
Five of the boats have been given very little time to prepare after being shipped from Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates to avoid the threat of Somali pirates. They had raced there from the Abu Dhabi stopover. The sixth, which represents Sanya, had suspended racing for rig repairs in Madagascar and then sailed to the Maldives.
The 3,000 mile-plus main part of leg three takes the fleet through the Malacca Strait, where there are hazards ranging from small fishing boats to commercial shipping. There are less well publicised concerns about piracy passing Vietnam, but the meaty bit of the course will be the slog north up the South China Sea. Headwinds are expected and temperatures will drop.
The two Spanish teams, Telefonica and Camper, lead on points, followed by France’s Groupama, Puma of the United States, Abu Dhabi's Azzam and China’s Sanya.
The TP52s, helped in no small part by Britain’s Niklas Zennstrom and the US Quantum team's Dick de Vos, have regrouped after sponsor Audi announced it was pulling out of its MedCup sponsorship.
Rob Weiland, the class manager, says they are forming a management group owned and controlled by members that will be responsible for event management, event marketing, sponsor and media coordination, as well as recruiting new teams.
"There is strong support and enthusiasm for this structure, not only among owners, but also potential sponsors, who have been part of the discussions. TP52 racing will continue in 2012 and beyond at the same high-calibre level as in previous years," says Weiland.
The circuit winner will be the best-performing boat in five qualifying events. The regatta schedule will include:
- Palma Vela, Palma, April 18 – 22 (tune up event)
- Trofeo Conde de Godo, Barcelona, May 23 - 27
- Sardinia Cup, Porto Cervo, June 11 - 17
- Royal Cup, Palma, July 10 - 14
- Copa del Rey, Palma, July 16-21 (does not count toward trophy)
- France Cup or One Ton Cup, TBD in France, September 18 – 22
- Valencia Cup, Valencia, October 9 to 13