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Dongfeng win knife-edge battle with MAPFRE in Rolex Fastnet Race

by Volvo Ocean Race 9 Aug 2017 08:24 BST 9 August 2017

China's Dongfeng Race Team edged out MAPFRE by just 56 seconds in a Rolex Fastnet Race thriller in the early hours of Wednesday, as an intense night of lead changes and fickle winds ended with the entire fleet separated by less than 40 minutes after more than 600 miles of racing.

Victory for Charles Caudrelier's team keeps it tight at the top of Leg Zero qualifying for the Volvo Ocean Race – and heralds an epic battle to come when the race around the world begins from Alicante on 22 October.

MAPFRE and Dongfeng had the best start back in Cowes on Sunday, stayed close all the way around the race course and finally finished just metres from each other after fighting all the way to finish line off the Plymouth breakwater.

Dongfeng crossed the line at 04:18:10 local time, with MAPFRE following shortly afterwards at 04:19:06.

Bouwe Bekking's Team Brunel were next over the line – a result that will give them a massive boost given that their preparations started so late – followed by team AkzoNobel in fourth. Vestas 11th Hour Racing, Team Sun Hung Kai / Scallywag and Turn the Tide on Plastic completed the fleet arrivals – and with just over 39 minutes between the first and last placed boats, they will be boosted by the belief that they can close the gap further by October.

Volvo Ocean 65s in the Rolex Fastnet Race:

1. Dongfeng Race Team: 2 days 15 hours 38 minutes 10 seconds
2. MAPFRE: 2 days 15 hours 39 minutes 06 seconds
3. Team Brunel: 2 days 15 hours 45 minutes 47 seconds
4. team AkzoNobel: 2 days 15 hours 52 minutes 40 seconds
5. Vestas 11th Hour Racing: 2 days 16 hours 09 minutes 11 seconds
6. Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag: 2 days 16 hours 13 minutes 53 seconds
7. Turn the Tide on Plastic: 2 days 16 hours 17 minutes 32 seconds

Dongfeng leveraged their experience on how to set up the boat from the last race, and their crew's local knowledge of these tricky coastlines, at times demonstrating superior boat speed and superb navigational choices.

Critical moments in their victory were when they regained the lead from team AkzoNobel before the Fastnet rounding and later, perfect navigation on the return from the Rock that saw them split from the fleet on the downwind run and pass through the obstacles around the Scilly Isles with fewer manoeuvres.

Despite often leading the fleet, Caudrelier revealed at the finish that their victory was far from certain. "We were leading at the Fastnet, leading the downwind and then suddenly, in big clouds we lost everything, we were last! Then another cloud helped us to come back, but afterwards MAPFRE were still there. They came back, passed us but we passed again. It was a nice fight with MAPFRE."

A testament to the close racing, MAPFRE skipper Xabi Fernández explained that the final finishing order was determined by one crucial gust. Dongfeng were able to furl and drop their masthead zero before MAPFRE and pass the Spanish boat when they were caught out with too much sail up.

"At the end we had a big sail and a 20-knot gust hit us, while Dongfeng had a smaller sail," explained Xabi. "It's a pity but it was a very good race for us."

Brunel's third place finish – after they grabbed second in the record-breaking race around the Isle of Wight last Wednesday – was another sign that Bouwe Bekking's team have hit the ground running after announcing their participation only recently.

"The team has done extremely well," said the Dutchman. "They all dug in 100% and I think everyone can look each other in the eye and say for the time being we got the maximum out of the team. We learnt a heck of a lot. I think that's the most important thing."

Leg Zero Rankings: (after 2 of 4 stages)

MAPFRE 15pts
Dongfeng Race Team 13pts
Team Brunel 13pts
team AkzoNobel 11pts
Vestas 11th Hour Racing 7pts
Turn the Tide on Plastic 6pts
Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag 5pts

There are two more races to go in the Leg Zero series of qualifiers. On Thursday, the fleet will race from Plymouth to Saint-Malo in France. After a non-scoring Pro-Am Race on Saturday, the teams will complete the series with a race from Saint-Malo to Lisbon, starting on Sunday.

While an overall Leg Zero winner will be declared, based on equal scoring for each of the four stages, no points will be carried forward to the Volvo Ocean Race itself.

Dongfeng Race Team wins Fastnet thriller by 56 seconds (from Dongfeng Race Team)

The Volvo Ocean 65, Dongfeng, skippered by Charles Caudrelier of France, clinched a hard-fought class win in the 47th biennial Rolex Fastnet Race this morning at 04:18 UTC when it crossed the finish line off Plymouth breakwater.

After 2 days, 15 hours, 38 minutes and 10 seconds of intense racing, the red and white one-design, sponsored by Dongfeng Motor Corporation, finished just 56 seconds ahead of its Spanish rival MAPFRE, skippered by Xabi Fernández.

A relieved Charles Caudrelier said: "We had a great fight with MAPFRE and AkzoNobel. We were leading at the Fastnet Rock and during the downwind section after we rounded. Then, suddenly, big clouds crossed the course and we lost everything; we went from first to last... but another cloud helped us to come back."

The Frenchman added: "What we have seen during this Fastnet Race is that there are strong teams and good navigators on many boats and it will be really very difficult to win the Volvo Ocean Race. But I am delighted to see that our work in training and the commitment from my crew has paid off in this race."

The 603-mile Rolex Fastnet Race that started from Cowes on Sunday, is the second of four warm-up races in the so-called Leg Zero series for the upcoming Volvo Ocean Race which starts from Alicante in late October.

Dongfeng got the best start of the seven-strong fleet of Volvo Ocean 65s as they set off to windward out of the Solent. But from then on it was always a close-fought battle as the lead changed hands between Dongfeng and rivals AkzoNobel skippered by Simeon Tienpont and MAPFRE.

The Chinese boat, raced by an international crew and including two female sailors, eventually rounded the Fastnet Rock in the lead only to surrender the initiative to MAPFRE by the Isles of Scilly where the two boats battled stormy conditions for a couple of hours with gusts of over 30 knots.

"It was a very short race compared to most Volvo Ocean Race legs, but my feeling was that it was a very long one. I am dead," joked Dongfeng navigator Pascal Bidégorry. "I ate nothing but one freeze-dried meal and two chocolate bars. I think we are going to fight a lot of times with MAPFRE, and with the other boats too. AkzoNobel, for example, were sometimes really fast," he added.

Chen Jinhao, also known as Horace, was delighted to win the Fastnet in the Volvo Ocean 65 class at his first attempt. "This was my first time in the Fastnet Race and it feels amazing to win it. Racing to the rock was great and I was amazed by things such as the tide in the English Channel," said the Chinese sailor who raced as bowman on Dongfeng.

"Everyone is very close and we were constantly fighting for position as we overtook others or they overtook us. We didn't have the time to eat or sleep but it was very good," he added.

The Leg Zero series, which does not count towards the scoring of the Volvo Ocean Race itself, now continues with two passage races. The first, from Plymouth to St Malo, starts on August 10th; the second from St Malo to Lisbon, starts on August 13th.

MAPFRE second place in one of the closest finishes in the history of the Rolex Fastnet Race (from MAPFRE)

Just 56 seconds separate the Spanish boat from winning Chinese Donfeng Race Team, skippered by French sailor Charles Caudrelier

The arrival of the Rolex Fastnet Race in Plymouth couldn't have been more thrilling. Yesterday morning, MAPFRE rounded the legendary Fastnet lighthouse on the south-east coast of Ireland, to begin a decisive downwind battle with the other leading VO65s, Dongfeng and Akzonobel, in the historic English regatta which set sail on Sunday from Cowes.

Over the course of the 605 mile route, MAPFRE led the fleet on several occasions, up to the final sprint, with a particularly intense head-to-head with the Chinese team, who finally whisked the victory by just 56 seconds ahead of MAPFRE.

"In the last 10 miles, Dongfeng passed us during a manoeuvre, with a squall and big gust which caught us out with a very large sail up. It's a shame, but we are really happy with the race," explained a clearly fatigued Xabi Fernández, the Basque skipper leading the Spanish team in the Volvo Ocean Race, due to start in Alicante on 22nd October.

The Rolex Fastnet Race was a first for Fernández, a true sailing veteran, with two Olympic medals, five round the world races, and two participations in the America's Cup under his belt. Although as he nevertheless declared, "in spite of the fatigue I've really enjoyed it."

Tomorrow at midday MAPFRE will continue their quest in the so-called Leg 0 of the Volvo Ocean Race, which takes the fleet from Plymouth to the French town of St. Malo.


Xabi Fernández (ESP)
The race was really tough, because as we know, in this type of regatta, two or two and a half days are always really intense. It is a complicated route along the south coast of England, as there are currents and wind shifts around every corner, and constant opportunities and danger. It was really, really close. The last 24 hours from the Fastnet to here were really good for us because we sailed very well downwind, and even led the fleet. In the last ten miles Dongfeng passed us during a manoeuvre with a squall and big gust, which caught us out with a very large sail up. It's a shame, but we are really happy with the race.

Támara Echegoyen (ESP)
It was incredible. It is my first experience in an offshore race. Having all the boats so close to us for nearly three days of competition requires huge physical effort, but the team did a really good job, and we have proven that we can respond to different challenges as they appear. We can be really satisfied, even with the close finish against Dongfeng.

Blair Tuke (NZL)
It was super busy and really close the whole way. We are a bit disappointed not to win, but there are lots of great things as a team. It was pretty enjoyable and a lot of hard work.

There were lots of twists and turns, and we sailed a pretty good downwind from the rock back, and were in the lead with Dongfeng coming a little bit from behind. They managed to just pass us, and have beaten us by less than a minute, so it was a little bit tough at the end there. It is still very positive how we sailed at the end, and some of the stuff we did at the start. All in all it has been good for us especially considering it is a warm-up.

It is great to get a little bit more offshore, to get into the watch systems, sail changes and manoeuvres, the pressure, the angle... and just to get the boat in the right line. It was an enjoyable experience; we did a lot of things well, and some not, so we will debrief and work on it as we head into the race.

Racing in a one-design boat is damn close! You make one mistake and someone will pass you! You think you have been doing well for a while and then you look around and the other boats are still right there. Going round the world like this is going to be... all in all, great fun!

Team AkzoNobel finishes fourth in the Rolex Fastnet Race in England (from team AkzoNobel)

Team AkzoNobel, the Dutch yacht racing team campaigning for the 2017-18 Volvo Ocean Race around the world, has finished the second stage of the four-part Leg Zero qualification series – the Rolex Fastnet Race – in fourth place.

The nine-person crew skippered by renowned Dutch yachtsman Simeon Tienpont and backed by paints, coatings and specialty chemicals company AkzoNobel crossed the finish line in Plymouth at 03.32 UTC (04.32 BST) on Wednesday morning.

The team completed the 603-nautical mile (1,117-kilometer) course from Cowes on the Isle of Wight and around Ireland's Fastnet Rock in two days 15 hours 52 minutes and 40 seconds.

The Leg Zero qualifying series does not count towards the Volvo Ocean Race itself.

Team AkzoNobel was the front runner for much of the Fastnet Race and led the seven-boat fleet of identical Volvo Ocean 65 one design yachts around Land's End and across the Irish Sea to the solitary Fastnet Rock off the southern tip of Ireland.

Despite mounting pressure from the closely packed fleet nipping at their transom all the way across the Irish Sea, Tienpont's crew of seven men and two women held the lead until just before dawn on Tuesday, August 8, when they had to cede the top spot to China's Dongfeng Race Team.

Dongfeng and team AkzoNobel rounded the Fastnet Rock shortly after 07.00 UTC (08.00 BST), around 10-minutes apart. Spanish team Mapfre was the next to make the turn back towards England soon after.

With the wind now behind them the boats accelerated to 17-knots (31-kilometers per hour) after hoisting their gigantic A3 headsails on the way to the final turn of the course – the Bishop Rock at the Scilly Isles.

After a melee of maneuvering among the boats at the Scillies, team AkzoNobel emerged in fourth place, close behind Dutch rivals Team Brunel. With few tactical options left in the final miles into Plymouth Tienpont's team could do little to challenge for third and ultimately had to settle for holding their position at the finish.

Although disappointed not to have been within striking distance of the top two teams – Dongfeng and Mapfre – on the run in to Plymouth, a weary Tienpont said there were many positives the team could take from its performance.

"We are all pretty tired – it has been very intense racing," he said. "For us, the first highlight was to stick with the group out of the Solent. On the first night, good tactics along the coast put us in a strong position. Around Land's End was another tactical mess for everyone, but we got away there pretty nicely.

"We were in the top three for 24-hours and had a strong lead for a bit. It was hard: during the whole race, every time you thought you were sort of away, the back of the fleet came back at you."

Team AkzoNobel is the only campaign to build a new boat for the latest edition of the Volvo Ocean Race. With less sea miles under their keel than some teams, they took full advantage of the opportunity to gauge themselves against the other boats during the Fastnet.

"You always feel a little bit disappointed in those moments when you know that you weren't fast enough or you didn't find that extra gear," Tienpont said. "But I think looking at the overall picture, it was a really good start for us.

"We've found out that there are plenty of areas where we are fast, but there are also some areas we need to work on. The one thing we did really well was boat handling and we will take a lot of confidence from that."

Even before the sailors had shuffled sleepily away down the pontoon of the Mountbatten Marina in Plymouth, heading for some well-earned rest, the team's shore crew had swung into action to get the team AkzoNobel boat ready for stage three of Leg Zero – a race across the English Channel to the French port of St. Malo starting the following day, Thursday, August 10.

The fourth and final stage of Leg Zero – a race from St. Malo to Lisbon, Portugal – begins on Sunday, August 13.