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  Monday, 13 May, 2002, 17:58 GMT 18:58 UK
McDonald backs local knowledge
Volvo Ocean Race entry Assa Abloy
Assa Abloy will attack Illbruck but is watching its back
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By Rob Hodgetts
BBC Sport Online

British skipper Neal McDonald believes local knowledge could give his Assa Abloy team the edge as they try to overhaul Volvo Ocean Race leader Illbruck with two legs left.

McDonald's boat is eight points behind Illbruck in second with 16 points available from the remaining legs into Gothenburg and Kiel.

The crew of Swedish syndicate Assa Abloy includes two Britons, a Frenchman, a Spaniard and two Swedes as well as Kiwis, Americans and a South African.

And while specialist knowledge of the English Channel will be largely cancelled out, McDonald is eyeing the end of the stage into Gothenburg in Sweden as his chance to spring some surprises on John Kostecki's outfit.

Assa Abloy skipper Neal McDonald
McDonald's crew are fired up for the last two legs

"We're back into short-course racing and the next leg is going to be very tricky with a lot of headlands and tidal problems," McDonald told BBC Sport Online.

"But we'd like to think local knowledge will help.

"On all the boats there are people who have spent a lot of time sailing in this part of world so the advantage is probably more at other end in Gothenburg.

"Over half our crew have sailed out of Gothenburg for many months so if we were looking at local knowledge that's where I would see our advantage lying."

Assa Abloy won leg three from Sydney to Auckland and was first into Miami from Rio de Janeiro.

  Overall standings after leg seven:
1. Illbruck - 49 pts
2. Assa Abloy - 41
3. Amer Sports One - 36
4. Team News Corp - 34
5. Team Tyco - 33
6. Team SEB - 26
7. Djuice Dragons - 23
8. Amer Sports Too - 10

They were also third into Baltimore and were three hours behind Illbruck into La Rochelle after the German boat broke the 24-hour distance record on the 10-day Atlantic crossing from Annapolis.

"We're pretty comfortable with where we are," said McDonald, who replaced Dutchman Roy Heiner as skipper after a disappointing first leg from Southampton to Cape Town.

"The important thing in a race of this length is to keep the pressure on and move forward and we've improved throughout."

McDonald said that Illbruck's decisive move on leg seven was early on in the Gulf Stream - a narrow, fast-moving current off the east coast of America.

"It's difficult to track and stay in and they did a little better job than us. They sailed a faultless race and were very difficult to catch," he said.

Volvo Ocean Race leader Illbruck
Illbruck holds an eight-point lead

But McDonald insists that his crew will keeping the pressure up right until the finish on 9 June in Kiel.

"Statistically it's clearly possible to catch them, and though the odds are stacked against us we're pretty fired up," he said.

"If they sail to the level they have been and we don't get everything absolutely right, then we've got a big job on.

"But sailing is one of these sports where things change quickly. We're going to be hanging out there for any opportunity to catch them."

Assa Abloy are also aware that their second place is under threat and will be wary of attacks from behind.

"There's three boats behind who will probably be saying the same things as me," said McDonald.

"We're all hungry, we all want to do well and everbody is going to be going full tilt.

"At this level the guys motivate themselves. Where you finish is what you will remember in 10 years time."

Neal McDonald on Amer Sports Too's dismasting
"Lisa told me conditions were horrific"
Links to more Sailing stories are at the foot of the page.


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