Sailing: Tudor tops class with style: The amateurs leading the British Steel round-the-world race have done a professional job. Stuart Alexander reports

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WITH four more of the British Steel Challenge yachts crossing the finish line on the first leg of their round-the-world voyage from Southampton to Rio de Janeiro last night, seven of the 10 will have finished the 5,300-mile leg within today's target date. While there is an accepted difference between these identical 67-footers and the grand prix fleet of the Whitbread race, some of the performance results are remarkably good.

The Whitbread maxis are 13 to 17 feet longer and crewed, at the top end, by professionals who are paid to race rather than by amateurs paying to have a go. The lead boat in 1989-90, Steinlager II, completed 650 miles more to Punta del Este in marginally under four days less than British Steel II, which won the first leg of the British Steel Challenge.

All of the maxis, old and new, except Creighton's Naturally, set higher average speeds than the British Steel boats, but, on corrected time, the performance by Richard Tudor in British Steel II would have been respectable for a 40-tonne, fitted-out cruiser racer.

Discrepancies have also emerged in identical boats, largely because of crewing and tactics. However, the lead trio should now have a cushion which will carry the rest of the way on accumulated time. The second group have all to play for. The back-markers, in theory at least, should be given little chance to come back.

On the Whitbread front, a fourth new maxi is being built for the 1993-94 race by a syndicate from the United States, Russia, Ukraine and Georgia according to an announcement in New York by the People to People Sports Committee.

The 82ft, ketch-rigged lightweight yacht, named Fazisi, has been designed by Vladislav Murnikov, who was behind the Fazisi project which entered the first Soviet yacht in the 1989-90 race. It is being built in carbon fibre by the Gardarica syndicate at the Energia factory outside Moscow, which is switching to civilian work after being involved in both space shuttles and rockets.

In the 60ft class, the Spanish Galicia syndicate has confirmed its entry. Britain's Stuart Childerley has been chosen by New Zealand's Chris Dickson to play a major role on the Japanese- backed 60-footer that Dickson will skipper in the race.

That leaves Lawrie Smith looking increasingly doleful, as the worst-kept secret in British yachting - his talks with Teesside Development Corporation over their backing for a Whitbread maxi - drift perilously close to the deadline when building needs to begin.