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Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing's Azzam led home the three Volvo Open 70s in the Rolex Fastnet Race in a monohull record time of one day 18 hours 39 minutes today, winning a thrilling duel with Groupama 4 in the battle of the two brand new boats.

Ian Roman/Volvo Ocean Race
Skippered by Britain's double Olympic silver medallist Ian Walker, the first Arab entry in the Rolex Fastnet Race finished four minutes ahead of Groupama 4 and skipper Franc Cammas in the 608-nautical mile sprint from Cowes to Plymouth via the Fastnet Rock off the southern tip of Ireland.

Team Sanya, skippered by New Zealand's Mike Sanderson and racing in the refitted Telefónica Blue from the Volvo Ocean Race 2008-09, could not quite compete with the other two teams' heavy air speed, finished just short of an hour behind.

All three times were inside the record monohull time of one day 20 hours 18 minutes set by ICAP Leopard in 2007. Leopard also competed in the current race and came to the assistance of Rambler 100 after she capsized. All 21 crew members were rescued in an operation co-ordinated by the Irish coastguard.

For more information on the Volvo Ocean Race please visit www.volvocceanrace.com 

See here for their Facebook page

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0900 position update - 1st Team Sanya! 4.3 miles ahead of Abu Dhabi and 4.9 miles ahead of Groupama. Further updates to follow.

For more information on the Volvo Ocean Race please visit www.volvocceanrace.com 

See here for their Facebook page

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14 August 2011 – Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing, the first Arab entry in the Rolex Fastnet Race, opened up a slim lead over the team’s rival entries in the Volvo Ocean Race after making a slick start to their keenly awaited three-way battle on Sunday.

Abu Dhabi, skippered by Britain’s twice Olympic silver medallist Ian Walker, were around two miles ahead of Franck Cammas’ Groupama Sailing Team with Mike Sanderson’s Team Sanya a fraction behind in third as the boats headed upwind towards Portland Bill.

That left well over 500 miles still to go in the 608-nautical mile classic offshore race from Cowes on the Isle of Wight to Plymouth, via the Fastnet Rock off the southern tip of Ireland. The fastest monohulls are expected to finish on Tuesday morning, in what could break the current record of one day 20 hours 18 minutes. 

The three Volvo Open 70 boats, all competing in the Volvo Ocean Race starting in Alicante in October, were a spectacular sight as in bright sunshine and in around 15 knots of breeze they blasted off the Royal Yacht Squadron start line off Cowes and powered their way up the Solent in close formation. 

Walker admitted to having butterflies in his stomach on the morning of the race – the first chance for the teams to race competitively against each other.

The Briton employed the most aggressive starting technique, throwing Azzam around like a dinghy to ensure control of the port end of the line. In the last few seconds to the start gun it briefly appeared they might have overcooked their final approach, but a short, sharp bow down manoeuvre just before the gun saw him pull off a near faultless start.

Team Sanya are the only one of the three teams not in a latest-generation Volvo Open 70, having chosen to refit the Telefónica Blue boat that finished third in the last Volvo Ocean Race. Sanderson’s team have had less preparation than the others as well, having only entered the race seven weeks ago.

“Abu Dhabi have the advantage right now but we know that this is a long race and we are ready for the challenge and planning to push as hard as we can,” said MCM Frankie Leonard. “I think the pressure is on the other boats.”

Groupama 4, who had chosen to start closer to the middle of the line, also crossed bang on the gun, while simultaneously, further down the line still, Sanderson nailed the starboard end. 

While Azzam appeared untroubled, Groupama 4 had to overcome a technical problem with their canting keel.

Three other teams have so far entered the 39,000 nautical mile Volvo Ocean Race starting in October – Team Telefónica, PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG Propulsion and CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand.

For more information on the Volvo Ocean Race please visit www.volvocceanrace.com 

See here for their Facebook page  

Read Frankie Leonard's blog here.

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Three entries in the Volvo Ocean Race 2011-12 head into the unknown on Sunday when Team Sanya, Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing and Groupama Sailing Team get a first chance to test themselves against each other in the Rolex Fastnet Race – the 608-nautical mile offshore classic.

The three Volvo Open 70s are part of a fleet of more than 320 boats in the sprint from Cowes to Plymouth via the Fastnet Rock off the southern tip of Ireland and there is palpable excitement in the teams at the prospect of racing the boats competitively, with less than 80 days to go before the start of the Volvo Ocean Race.

Team Sanya only announced their participation in the Volvo Ocean Race seven weeks ago and have barely begun getting to know their boat, Sanya, the refitted version of the Telefónica Blue boat that finished third in the last edition of the race in 2008-09.

Skipper Mike Sanderson, who led ABN AMRO ONE to victory in the 2005-06 Volvo Ocean Race, believes just making it to the start line represents a success for his new team.

“For us it’s going to be very tough to have to line up against the other Volvo boats, especially such strong teams so early in our programme,” said Sanderson. “I have no doubt that it is going to very humbling. But it has been perfect for our whole sailing team to have something to aim for. What a great race to have on our calendar. The timing is perfect.”

At a little over 600 nautical miles, the biennial Fastnet Race is a fraction of the length of a typical Volvo Ocean Race leg but history has proved it one of the most gruelling offshore yacht races.

The weather conditions could be extreme later in the race, which should last two days for the Volvo Open 70s, with light winds but quite choppy seas giving way to winds of up to 30-35 knots once the fastest boats have rounded Fastnet Rock.

The Rolex Fastnet Race, organised by the Royal Ocean Racing Club, was first sailed in 1925. The race hit the headlines in 1979 when a huge storm ripped through the 306-yacht fleet leaving 15 dead and many more injured.

Further attention came in 1985 when maxi yacht Drum, built for that year´s Whitbread Round the World Race, capsized trapping six of its crew including co-owner and Duran Duran frontman Simon Le Bon under its upturned hull for 40 minutes before they were rescued.

The Volvo Ocean Race boats will begin the 44th edition of the Fastnet at 1200 GMT (1300 local time) on Sunday.

The Volvo Ocean Race begins in Alicante on 29 October with the first in-port race. The other teams to have entered to date are CAMPER with Emirates Team New Zealand, PUMA Ocean Racing powered by BERG Propulsion and Team Telefónica, 

For more information on the Volvo Ocean Race please visit www.volvocceanrace.com 

See here for their Facebook page  

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Team Sanya will be racing in a refurbished version of the Telefónica Blue boat that finished on the podium in the last race and the new livery shown off after some furious work in Hamble, England displays a multicoloured design representing the phoenix, the mythical bird that has good-luck status in China.

Skipper Mike Sanderson left two spots open in the crew list he named on Saturday, with at least one of those places to go to a Chinese sailor.

Irishman Frankie Leonard had already been announced as Media Crew member. See here for his first blog.

Navigator Aksel Magdahl was among the stand-out names on a sailing team list with a distinct New Zealand flavour.

Joining Sanderson, himself a Kiwi, are fellow New Zealanders Richard Mason, Chris Main, Andy Meikeljohn, Ryan Houston, and Cameron Dunn.

Sanderson will use the Rolex Fastnet Race, which starts on August 14, to give a trial to China's Teng Jiang He, nicknamed Tiger.

“Despite starting this campaign late in the day, I am really excited about the team we have gathered together and that applies to both the sailing and shore team," said Sanderson.

"Without realising it, we have a really young and ambitious sailing team – the average age is 33 and I am the oldest at 40.

"We have managed to bring together a combination of experience in all of the right areas as well a fresh and innovative approach and that feels really right for this team.

"We still have two sailing team members to announce and we have our first Chinese sailing team member, Tiger, on a trial with us now and he will compete in the Fastnet race with us so all is progressing really well.”

Team Sanya crew list as of Saturday:

Mike Sanderson, skipper        
Cameron Dunn, watch leader
Chris Main, watch leader
Aksel Magdahl, navigator 
Richard Mason, helm/trimmer
David Swete, helm/trimmer (Under 30)
Andy Meiklejohn, bow
Ryan Houston, bow (Under 30)
Frankie Leonard, media crew member

Sanya wlil be up against Volvo Ocean Race rivals Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing and Groupama in the Fastnet.

Keep up to date with news on Team Sanya here.

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