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Offshore Team Germany hold their nerve to claim IMOCA class victory in The Ocean Race Europe Leg 3

by The Ocean Race 17 Jun 21:53 BST 17 June 2021

Offshore Team Germany, the non-foiling IMOCA 60 skippered by German Olympian Robert Stanjek, has pulled off a spectacular victory in the third and final offshore leg of The Ocean Race Europe.

After almost four days of racing since leaving Alicante, Spain on Sunday afternoon the German team arrived in Genova, Italy at 0936 UTC / 1136 CEST locally today, having taken full advantage of their yacht's superior light wind performance compared to the four other foil-equipped entries.

Stanjek and his crew - navigator Benjamin Dutreux (FRA), Annie Lush (GBR), Phillip Kasüske (GER), and onboard reporter Felix Diemer (GER) - made an early split away from the rest of the fleet when they headed north soon after leaving Alicante.

At the same time, the four foiling IMOCAs - Charlie Enright's 11th Hour Racing Team (USA), Louis Burton's Bureau Vallée (FRA), Nicolas Troussel's CORUM L'Épargne (FRA), and Thomas Ruyant's LinkedOut (FRA) - elected to stay closely grouped on a more south-easterly route over the first 48 hours.

Despite some slowdowns in the light and patchy winds around the Balearic Islands, Offshore Team Germany were mostly able to make steady progress along the 600-nautical mile / 1100-kilometre course and at one point had opened up am almost 100nm / 185km lead over the chasing pack.

That lead was eroded considerably in the last 36 hours as the foilers found some stronger breeze that allowed them to sail closer to their true potential, but when the German entry crossed the line in the Gulf of Genova this morning the chasing pack was still over 20nm/37km away.

"Actually, it was not our plan to escape from the fleet, but sometimes things turn out a bit different than your plan it," Stanjek said. "All our routings were north of the Balearics and so this was, for us, a clear call - and I thought some other teams would decide the same.

"We climbed up the Spanish coastline north and then we found a lane offshore with good pressure, and all of a sudden we lifted from the fleet like crazy. Within five or six hours the split was so massive and for us it was a gift. Since that moment, we were aware that we have to sail our own race because the difference between the fleet and us was already 50 miles.

"But this race was about so much more than the hardware," Stanjek said. "I think one of the key factors to me was Benjamin [Dutreux] in this race. He's a very good navigator, very clear and tough strategist. I think we both worked well together. It was probably me doing a little bit more the risk management on his advice - but he did a great, great job.

"And the whole team also stayed focused and awake. We had difficult parts in the race where everyone closed in, and we had no breeze at all. Sailing upwind in an IMOCA in three knots is not really fun.

"This is just the start of let's call it a second career. I'm not a standard offshore sailor. I've raced in the Olympic classes for a long, long time. But after the Olympics, I started to enjoy offshore sailing. So I hope this race will bring us closer to the start to the next Ocean Race. I can't actually wait to to get to the starting line."

Second place in the IMOCAs went to the blue hulled LinkedOut, whose skipper Thomas Ruyant had been downbeat before the leg about his boat's chances of performing well in the forecast ultra-light wind passage. Nevertheless, Ruyant's crew, who led the fleet offshore last night in search of more wind, were today able to overhaul the American 11th Hour Racing Team in a drag race on the approach to Genova.

As the wind dropped away closer to shore LinkedOut slipped across the leg three finish line at a sedate seven knots with 11th Hour Racing Team completing the IMOCA podium places just minutes later.

The points awarded to the top three IMOCA finishers in this leg mean that each of Germany, LinkedOut and 11th Hour Racing Team will have an opportunity to win The Ocean Race Europe with the right result in the Coastal Race on Saturday (see below).

Two boats remain racing and with significant separation between the pair, Bureau Vallée projects to finish in fourth place, with CORUM L'Epargne on track for fifth.

Earlier today, it was the Mirpuri Foundation Racing Team earning a spectacular come from behind win in the VO65 class over AkzoNobel Ocean Racing and Sailing Poland.

For the weary sailors, Friday holds the promise of a quieter day of scheduled, local pro-am sailing.

But the pressure stays on as today's results mean both the IMOCA and VO65 podium positions for The Ocean Race Europe will be decided by the results of Saturday's Coastal Race. Bonus points are awarded to the top three finishers in each class - three points for a win, two points for second, and a single point for third place. With the standings so close, Saturday's results will determine the winners of The Ocean Race Europe trophy.

Real time positions and results can be found via the homepage at www.theoceanrace.com

Ed Gorman, IMOCA Globe Series, also reports:

The celebrations are still on hold because the final podium has yet to be decided in the inaugural edition of The Ocean Race Europe, but Robert Stanjek's Offshore Team Germany crew have one hand on the trophy after a masterful performance in Leg 3.

"I am very happy with how we have delivered so far - whatever the outcome this is a great event for us and now we have to find the re-set button. It's two days of rest and then we take it from there," said a delighted Stanjek on the dockside in Genoa as he looked forward to the deciding coastal race on Saturday.

Offshore Team Germany go into that battle - inevitably another very light wind affair - on 14 points. They are just one point ahead of LinkedOut and two points ahead of 11th Hour Racing Team, with three points available for the winner on a racetrack that is likely to suit the German boat that has daggerboards but no foils.

We asked Stanjek to describe the four-day trek from Alicante. "It was not our intention to split from the fleet because we know that the element of risk management (with the weather) in the Med at this time of year is a bit difficult," he said.

"Actually we had quite a conservative approach, but all our routings were taking us to the north of the Balearics, so we were quite confident about sailing up the Spanish coast to the north. Then all of a sudden we found a nice lane with nice pressure which lifted us from the fleet very fast and within - let's say four or five hours - we had a massive split with the rest of the IMOCA fleet. And from that time on we were aware that we were sailing two different races - they had a race and we had our own race."

Stanjek said that even though his 2011-vintage Owen Clark-designed IMOCA had opened up a big lead, as it dived in and out of the French coast off Hyères, it was never easy. "It turned out that we had the better route and it was quite thrilling in the end with all the shut-downs of the wind, but anyway we made it - it was a fantastic race," he said.

The performance of this crew, that also includes the Briton Annie Lush and German sailor Phillip Kasüske, has surprised many, given that this is Stanjek's first race in IMOCAs. His background is not in the Figaro circuit, but Olympic sailing in the Star class. But he reckons the combination of talents and backgrounds - Lush was also originally an Olympic sailor before going onto The Ocean Race - gives the team unique strengths.

"I am finally very happy to sail my own first race (in the Class)," said Stanjek. "My philosophy of a good team was always to combine good, precise Olympic sailors with offshore experience, and I think I managed it very well. It is very obvious that we go into details, and everyone brings good ideas to the table, and we have no egos in the team - everyone is listening to everyone else and it is a very flat hierarchy."

Dutreux has been enjoying the challenge of The Ocean Race Europe and fully-crewed IMOCA racing, and said this last leg was incredibly intense that required the team to fight to the end. "Three offshore legs and three different winners, the game is very open in IMOCA," he said. "It's crazy and there is something for everyone and that is great."

"We've had weather conditions that have allowed us to show off the strengths of our boat and that has allowed us to be in the game. We know we don't have the same boat characteristics (as the others), and that we don't necessarily have to go to the same place on the water, and that went well," he added.

The single-hander who finished ninth in the Vendée Globe, was impressed by the way the team handled the exhaustion. "On stages like this one you get through to the human element and people start to get very tired," he said. "When you're on your own, you don't exchange information and you tend to put everything on yourself. Sometimes we didn't agree and that's when everyone comes back to their role; mine was to say 'we're going there, we're doing that.' And it's not always obvious."

Kasüske, whose background is in Finn sailing, thoroughly enjoyed what was also his first experience of offshore racing. "It was pretty interesting," he said. "I learnt so much. The life on board for four days is pretty amazing. You get into a nice rhythm, even with the little sleep you get. It felt like a big adventure more than a race - it was a great experience which is so different to the inshore racing I've done."

Whatever the result on Saturday, this has already been an outstanding debut by the German team who will now focus on an entry in the Transat Jacques Vabre with Stanjek teaming up with another - as yet unannounced - sailor before the focus shifts to next year's Ocean Race. For that contest the boat they call Einstein - which has its own way of moving through time and space (!) - will have foils fitted.

"Our main goal is to get to the starting line of The Ocean Race," confirmed Stanjek. "And therefore, of course, we will put foils on the boat. We have waited on purpose for a long time because we wanted to wait until the result of the Vendée Globe, but it's time this winter to put the boat on foils."

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