Walker aiming to guide Abu Dhabi to Volvo Ocean Race victory
LISBON, Portugal (AP) Skipper Ian Walker and his Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing crew have the chance over the next four days to clinch the nine-month Volvo Ocean Race, with the penultimate leg from Lisbon to Lorient, France, starting Sunday.
The Briton and his eight-strong crew currently stand six points clear of their closest pursuers, Chinese challengers Dongfeng Race Team and the Dutch boat Team Brunel.
If the Abu Dhabi crew win the 647-nautical mile stage - and Dongfeng and Brunel finish fourth or worse - then the title will be theirs.
Overall victory in offshore sailing's most prestigious competition would be a major coup for Abu Dhabi, which is at the forefront of a booming sport in the Gulf region.
They became the first from the Middle East to enter a team in the 41-year-old round-the-world event, formerly the Whitbread Round the World Race, in the previous edition in 2011-12.
They could only finish fifth out of six boats on that occasion but Walker, who was also skipper then, learned hard lessons and has put that experience to winning effect so far this time.
No British skipper has ever won the race's overall trophy and the double Olympic silver medalist has made it the focus of his career to break that duck.
He is not, however, taking anything for granted.
''There's a lot of this race left. In offshore sailing, you can lose it going up a river at the end,'' the 45-year-old Walker said Friday.
''I've seen Admiral's Cups lost in the dying seconds. We're a long, long way from winning this race. When you start to think you've got it won, that's when you start to lose.''
The eighth leg marks the return to the race of Danish boat Team Vestas Wind. The crew grounded their yacht on an Indian Ocean reef in late November in leg two and it has taken six months to rebuild it for a return to the start line.
The fleet is expected to reach Lorient early on Thursday. They will have a short maintenance period there before setting off for the final leg to Gothenburg on June 16.
The event finishes June 27 with an in-port race in Gothenburg.