A PUMA team decked out in Irish rugby shirts rounded off the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12 in style on Saturday, securing victory in the in-shore series with a win on the waters of Galway watched by tens of thousands of race-mad fans.
Ken Read’s team scored a commanding first place in the Discover Ireland In-Port Race, their ninth podium finish of the 10-race inshore series and a first victory.
An electrifying scrap for second between CAMPER and Groupama saw the two teams virtually inseparable right to the end of the 8.2-nautical mile course with Chris Nicholson’s team stealing the runners-up prize on the day, and in the series as a whole.
A last-minute comeback from Telefónica saw them steal the final podium position from Groupama on Saturday, but fourth was enough to give the French team third overall in the inshore series.
Ireland In-Port Race Highlight
Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing finished fifth ahead of Team Sanya.
“It tastes very sweet,” said PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG skipper Ken Read who punched the air in delight as he steered Mar Mostro over the finish line.
“To race against the best sailors in the world and come out on top is all we can ask for.”
A third place in the inshore series rounded off a fantastic Volvo Ocean Race debut for Franck Cammas’ crew on Groupama 4, cementing their reputation as one of the slickest teams in the race in whether racing offshore or around a short course.
“For sure it is a big dream – it’s a great feeling for everyone,” Cammas said ahead of a special prize-giving which will see him hold up the newly designed Volvo Ocean Race Trophy. “We did not expect it so it’s a big surprise, but it’s a good one.
“I think the secret was that we were outsiders at the beginning and we were forced to learn all the time. We had to learn to race against the best crews in the world and eventually it got easier. We made mistakes at the start but all the time we tried to get better, right until the finish in Galway.”
The thousands of spectators who turned out in force to watch the grand finale were treated to a thrilling start, with CAMPER and Abu Dhabi leading through the downwind line as the fleet split towards the first mark in 12 to 16 knots from the north north-west.
Both teams picked the right-hand side along with Telefónica, but it was the boats in the other group – PUMA and overall race winners Groupama sailing team – who led round the first mark.
A penalty for obstructing Sanya saw Ian Walker’s Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing crew relegated to sixth, as PUMA, Groupama and CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand fought it out at the head of the fleet.
By the fourth mark the PUMA crew had eked out a 26-second lead, challenging Groupama and CAMPER to pull out something special to catch them.
Meanwhile Sanya and Telefónica locked horns in pursuit of fourth while Abu Dhabi tried to reduce the huge deficit caused by their penalty.
Driven to score their first in-port win, there was no stopping PUMA as a flawless performance saw them extended their lead, holding on to take the win around the 8.2 nautical mile course by one minute and 19 seconds and secure the overall in-port title.
CAMPER’s second in the inshore series rounded off a successful Volvo Ocean Race campaign which also saw them take second in the overall rankings.
“This race is the easiest race in the world to lose,” said skipper Nicholson, “so to be runner up when we’ve had quite a few troubles on the way is great. We’ve shown a lot of character along the way.”
The 2011-12 edition was always tipped to be the closest edition in 39 years of the event and it didn’t disappoint.
Groupama, the first French team to compete since Eric Tabarly’s La Poste crew in 1993-94, finally secured victory with a second-place finish in Leg 9 from Lorient to Galway.
Telefónica, led by Spanish Olympic gold medallist Iker Martínez, won the first three legs but a string of disappointing results saw them finish in fourth overall.
The next edition of the race will start in 2014 and will be raced in 65ft one-design boats from Farr Yacht Design.
Results of Discover Ireland In-Port Race, Galway:
1. PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG 53 minutes 12 seconds
2. CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand + 1:19
3. Team Telefónica: + 1:56
4. Groupama sailing team: + 2:29
5. Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing: +4:00
6. Team Sanya: +4:32