Volvo Ocean Race 2015: Mapfre records its first victory in Auckland ahead of the Ian Walker-skippered Abu Dhabi

Walker is still waiting for his first leg victory of the round the world race

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The Independent Online

A tight finish on a warm summer’s night saw the Spanish yacht Mapfre notch up its first win on the fourth leg of the Volvo round the world race from Sanya, China, to Auckland. At just after 21.30, after a 5,250-mile leg fought out in first danger-strewn seas and then the trickiest of wind lotteries, the Alicante-based yacht, with Britain’s Rob Greenhalgh as one of the watch captains, was just four minutes and 25 seconds minutes ahead of the British-skippered Abu Dhabi, where double Olympic silver medallist Ian Walker is still awaiting his first leg win.

But second was enough to push Walker up to joint first overall with third leg finisher, the Chinese entry Dongfeng, a further four minutes astern and skippered by France’s Charles Caudrelier. Dongfeng had won leg three from Abu Dhabi into its home port and on this leg, again, had to overcome gear damage not reported by the others.   

They have arrived at an Auckland awash with sport, politics, and sailing politics. Before turning any congratulatory attention to the ocean racers, the locals, and the rest of the country, were devouring every last delicious drop of their dramatic Cricket World Cup win at Eden Park over their trans-Tasman friends from Australia.

They were also devouring the civil war between the supporters and detractors of the America’s Cup winning and now chasing Team New Zealand, and the internal upheaval that has seen the shove sideways of skipper Dean Barker. It has been expected for some considerable time, especially as the rising star of Peter Burling has been shining so brightly in the sky.

Some sectors of the local media have grabbed the transition as a means to beat TNZ’s chief executive Grant Dalton over the head, with Dalton’s long-term supporters and backers on the back foot, and the Kiwi government caught, perhaps gratefully, in the middle.

The public, who are also the ones contributing the taxpayer dollars, is left wondering if this is treachery from within, if their money is going towards another full challenge in 2017 or just towards an Auckland regatta early in 2017 to act as a seeding mechanism  for the Cup challenger semi-finals in Bermuda later that year.

They have also been told that TNZ in a trimmed, 50-person form starts work on Monday 2 March and that the budget has already been cut by NZ$20m. But not from what nor to what. Sponsors need certainty both financial and sporting. Ben Ainslie’s Portsmouth-based British challenge is hoping for £80m. in total, but has yet to announce a title sponsor in addition to its private backers.

The Italians have announced only €80m. from Prada but have additional support from Chinese computer manufacturer Lenovo plus other sponsor partners. Sweden’s Artemis challenge spent up to €120m. last time in San Francisco, the defender, Larry Ellison’s Oracle, moving from San Francisco to the tax haven 2017 venue of Bermuda, despite cuts still has a budget for which the French, yet to announce any serious financial programme, would give eye teeth.

But all are expected to be in Cagliari, Sardinia, in June for the opening regatta of the 2015 America’s Cup World Series in 45-foot wing-powered catamarans modified to race on foils. That will be followed by a Portsmouth festival in July.

In the Middle East the GAC Pindar-sponsored Dongfeng team has been using the EFG Tour of Arabia as a training academy for the Volvo with Australian skipper Nick Moloney shepherding four Dongfeng crew as part not only of the rotation squad for this year’s Volvo but also for the next round the world circuit in 2017. It starts after the America’s Cup in 2017.

Leading in Arabia is the defending champion, Sydney Gavignet, lead skipper for Oman Sail, which organises the event. He again has Ireland’s Damian Foxall as his right hand man. 

Volvo Ocean Race

Leg 4 – Sanya to Auckland

1 Mapfre (ESP)

2 Abu Dhabi

3 Dongfeng (CHN)

4 Alvimedica (USA)

5 Brunel (NED)

6 SCA (SWE)

7 Vestas Wind (DEN) did not start

Standings after 4 legs

1= Abu Dhabi; Dongfeng 8pts

3 Team Brunel 14

4= Mapfre; Alvimedica

6 SCA 24

7 Vestas Wind 28

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