Dongfeng Race Team opted to try one last trick in an eleventh-hour bid to overhaul Leg 3 leaders MAPFRE on Friday as they went into stealth mode.
The decision by skipper Charles Caudrelier and navigator Pascal Bidégorry means Dongfeng will 'disappear' from the race tracker for 24 hours, just as the double points-scoring Leg 3 reaches its climax.
Caudrelier's crew had led for the first ten days of the 6,500-mile Southern Ocean epic from Cape Town to Melbourne, but were eventually reeled in by MAPFRE on Wednesday.
MAPFRE and Dongfeng gybed nearly simultaneously at around 2200 UTC on Thursday, pointing their bows towards Melbourne and beginning the final run into the finish line.
Shortly after, Dongfeng notified race control that they had entered stealth mode, which will hide them from the rest of the fleet for three position reports – they will reappear at 19:00 UTC today.
With just under 1,000 miles of race track still remaining, the bold move from Caudrelier's team proves that they haven't given up hope of their first leg victory just yet.
On MAPFRE, navigator Juan Vila has been working overtime not only to plot the best course for his crew but also to assess Dongfeng's theoretical options.
Despite a reasonably healthy lead, they know they must remain at full tilt over the final 48 hours to keep Dongfeng at bay.
“The last position reports have been very good for us and we have a good lead, even if Dongfeng has gone stealth on this last one,” skipper Xabi Fernández said. “Juan checks their options anyway and we have a guess where they can be. We have to wait now to find out more - that’s why we keep going as fast as we can.”
Desperate to grind out every last bit of boat speed as they race to catch third-placed Vestas 11th Hour Racing now only 10 miles ahead, Team Brunel were momentarily caught out overnight when a violent squall hit, knocking their Volvo Ocean 65 flat on its side.
“I was probably pushing a little too hard into a squall and we wiped out in the high 20s, right at the beginning of it,” helmsman Peter Burling explained. “It was probably quite lucky as it got up to about 40 later on. The guys did a great job of letting the jib off pretty quick, and getting the boat back on its feet. We've done it a fair few times now so everyone knows what to do.”
The battle for fifth place continued between old rivals Team Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag, led by Dave Witt, and Dee Caffari's Turn the Tide on Plastic.
Sixty-six miles separates the two teams, but that distance could easily be made up if Scallywag make a mistake in the timing of their gybe north.
“Conditions are not great – we have between 25 to 30 knots of wind and a very bad sea state,” Scallywag navigator Antonio Fontes said. “We're fighting still. The big choice now is when to gybe. Obviously we are feeling pressed by Turn the Tide on Plastic. We have to keep our speed up until the finish.”
Leg 3 – Position Report – Friday 22 December (Day 13) – 13:00 UTC
1. MAPFRE -- distance to finish – 812.2 nautical miles
2. Dongfeng Race Team --- Stealth Mode until 19:00 UTC
3. Vestas 11th Hour Racing +191.4
4. Team Brunel +201.6
5. Sun Hung Kai / Scallywag +368.8
6. Turn the Tide on Plastic +437.3
7. team AkzoNobel +730.0