Could the current race leaders see their lead taken away by the jury in Brazil?

Auckland wasn’t a great stopover for Iker Martinez’ Telefonica team. Forced to take third at the end of the offshore leg then a last place for the inshore race, the previously dominate team seemed to haemorrhage points down under. But on day three of leg 5 the news got potentially far worse for the leading team as the organisers announced that an international jury would be scheduling a hearing during the next stopover in Itajaí, Brazil after receiving a report from the head of the Measurement Group over the sails carried during Leg 4 from Sanya to Auckland.

The issue concerns an alleged breach of the notice of race 5.2.2. which reads;

For a Leg a maximum of 8 Race buttoned sails, made up of;
(a) 1 Mainsail
(b) 3 Headsails (where 1 must be the HWJ)
(c) 3 Spinnakers (where 1 must be a Fractional Spinnaker)
(d) 1 Staysail

At this stage no further details are known about the apparent breach let alone what kind of penalty would be imposed should the findings go against Telefonica. But, with a margin of just 15 points between them and second placed Groupama who are showing signs of being a major threat now they have found new pace, there isn’t much slack for the Spanish team to maintain its lead.

A third place on an offshore leg is worth 27 points, a 50 percent penalty on points for their third place into Auckland for example, would be close to their current leading margin. Of course this is pure speculation but the situation is a reminder of several other issues that have cropped up in previous Volvo/Whitbread races where the jury has been required to consider taking action against a team that has allegedly breached the rules. Sometimes the penalty itself has been the subject of controversy.

Last time around Ericsson had to explain themselves over hollows in the keel fin as well as explaining why they appeared to have a second bow for the boat.

Previous to that ABN AMRO were defending the hollows in the hull around their innovative canting keel mounting.

Going further back Illbruck was questioned about an illegal weed cutter on its ‘P’ bracket, a breach that the team was fined £1000.

Disputes with the measurement gurus are commonplace in this race, particularly it would seem with the race leaders which places even more pressure and attention on both sides.

But sometimes the pressure comes from within the team itself, particularly at this stage of the race when the overall performance of the boats and the remaining distance to the finish tape are much clearer to see.

The latest to show signs of such pressure and frustration was Camper’s boss Grant Dalton who has laid the blame for his team’s boat’s apparent lack of performance in certain areas squarely at the door of its designer Marcelo Botin.

In an interview with Auckland’s Sunday Star Times he said;

“Yeah, I lay that performance deficit in certain angles 100% at the feet of the designer. No doubt of that,” before going on to say, “I just guess we aren’t going to be building any boats together again.”

“I take it pretty personally if we are not winning. I can only put my faith in the fact that we are four out of nine legs and things could change. But there is absolutely no doubt that at certain angles we are slow relatively to these other three ‘Juan K’ boats,” said the perfectionist Kiwi.

The leg to Brazil is always a punishing one where sparks fly when the teams arrive. This one looks no different with the potential for the race to restart two thirds of the way around the world.