Auckland - Spanish boat Telefonica's hopes of a fourth leg win in succession in the Volvo Ocean Race were hanging by a thread on Sunday after falling 138 nautical miles off the lead in the race from China to New Zealand.
Skipper Iker Martinez, the joint 2011 world sailor of the year, has barely made a mistake so far in claiming the first three legs of nine in the nine-month, 39 000-nautical mile race around the world which concludes in Galway, Ireland in July.
But Telefonica have been uncharacteristically off the pace in the 5,220-nautical mile leg from Sanya, China to Auckland and a treacherous trek through the Solomon Islands in the Pacific over the past two days only slowed up the Spaniards as they chased leaders Groupama of France.
Telefonica lay third, 57 miles behind second-placed Puma who were in turn 80 miles adrift of Franck Cammas's crew.
The U.S.-led Puma's pursuit of Groupama was hampered on Saturday after a torn jib needed to be hauled on board to be sewn back together.
Camper, the fifth-placed Spanish/New Zealand entry, suffered a similar setback earlier in the week.
The six-strong fleet have just over 1 500 nautical miles still to sail to Auckland. They are expected to arrive there by next weekend.
Telefonica (Spain) 101 points, Camper (Spain/New Zealand) 83, Groupama (France) 73, Puma (U.S.) 53, Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing 43, Team Sanya (China) 17.