Auckland - Ten days after they were forced back to port in New Zealand, Volvo Ocean Race strugglers Abu Dhabi began the pursuit of an unlikely podium place on Wednesday as they started closing the gap on stricken Spanish rivals Telefonica.
Telefonica announced on Tuesday that problems with their boat's structure were too severe to fix at sea and would necessitate a pit stop in Ushuaia in Argentina, the world's southernmost city.
Telefonica need to finish Leg 5 in third place at worst to be certain of keeping their overall lead, with closest challengers Groupama looking strong in their duel with Puma for the top two positions.
They remain just over 1 000 nautical miles ahead of Abu Dhabi, but with the Emirati team touching speeds of 40 knots on Wednesday that lead could be overturned by the team Telefonica have emerged from the pit lane just past Cape Horn on Sunday or Monday.
"We're quite a long way off the pace with our delayed start time but you never know what could happen," said Abu Dhabi's Australian crewman Anthony Nossiter.
"The last time I did this race we passed three boats between Cape Horn and the finish by going west of the Falkland Islands. It's like a totally new race after the Horn -- it could be a restart."
Groupama were at the head of the pack on Wednesday, leading Puma by around 50 nm. Telefonica were around 300 nm back in third.
"We know we are in a race now for the podium," said skipper Iker Martinez. "Abu Dhabi are a long way back but they can catch up."
Camper, who like Telefonica will be forced to stop for repairs, were bracing themselves and their patched together boat for 30-knot winds over the coming 24 hours.
Sanya, the first Chinese entry in the race's history, are back in New Zealand and preparing to ship their boat to Miami after suffering rudder damage that will keep them out of this leg and the next.
Overall standings after four legs:
1. Telefonica (Spain) 122 points; 2. Groupama 107; 3. Camper/ETNZ (Spain/New Zealand) 104; 4. Puma (United States) 83; 5. Abu Dhabi (United Arab Emirates) 55; 6. Sanya (China) 25