Illbruck Challenge set out yesterday to celebrate an early Volvo Ocean Race victory when it was the first across the start line in LaRochelle, France, for the tricky eighth leg of the round-the-word sailing race.
The German entry, which has four leg victories and an eight-point lead in the overall standings after seven of nine legs, can win the 32,700-mile race if it covers the 1,075 nautical miles and arrives first in Goteborg, Sweden, Volvo's hometown.
But to do so, it must conquer the challenging English Channel and the North Sea.
"Tactically it is a difficult leg - a lot of peninsulas and a lot of current," illbruck skipper John Kostecki said before leaving the small French sailing community. "Those are going to be some really tricky areas. As you get into the North Sea and up into the Norway, Denmark, Sweden area, you normally have lighter air - very unpredictable. There could be some fickle winds like we had in the Chesapeake.
"Our goal is to go out and do what we have been doing, and hopefully we can have another podium [top-three] finish. We will be keeping our eye on ASSA ABLOY more than the other boats."
To prevent illbruck from victory in Goteborg, Swedish entry ASSA ABLOY - currently in second place overall - must either win the leg or finish at least one place ahead of the German boat.
ASSA ABLOY can win the race by winning this leg and the final leg, if illbruck finishes no better than fifth in each of the legs.
But ASSA ABLOY got off to a poor start yesterday. It snagged the start-line buoy as it tried to squeeze between it and Australia's Team News Corp. After cutting the line to the buoy, the Swedish boat performed a mandatory 360-degree penalty turn for touching the buoy and rejoined the eight-boat fleet in last place. It eventually moved into seventh.
After five hours into the six-day leg, illbruck, Bermuda's Team Tyco and Italy's Amer Sports One were in a virtual tie for the lead.
The fleet is expected in Goteborg on Friday. The ninth and final leg - a 250-mile, overnight sprint to the race finish in Kiel, Germany - begins June 8.
Reports from the Volvo Ocean Race Web site contributed to this article.