The Auckland leg of the round-the-world yacht race has produced some classic finishes and another one is emerging as the fleet charge down the northern coastline of New Zealand.

Sadly for Team New Zealand's Camper, it's not at the front of the fleet, where Groupama maintain their dominance. The French boat are 105 miles ahead of their nearest rival and are expected to arrive in Auckland early tomorrow morning.

The real action is in the battle for second where Puma, Telefonica and Camper are all within 10 miles of each other as they round Cape Reinga and North Cape and begin the final sprint to Auckland.

The boats were enjoying average wind speeds of 15 knots this afternoon but it's expected to drop to below 10 knots for most of Saturday night and not fill in again with any consistency until Sunday morning, meaning positions could change quickly.


"It's going to be an extremely tense 24 hours,'' Camper skipper Chris Nicholson said.

"We're determined to get past our competitors and the big parking lot coming up offers exactly that opportunity.

"These conditions are so changeable that anything could happen. You look at the tradition of this race, and it's all about classic battles down the coast of New Zealand with last-minute lead changes so I certainly hope that occurs and if it deserves to happen to any team then it's us.

"It's certainly going to make for some tired but hopefully happy sailors in Auckland on Sunday night. We're all looking forward to a massive Auckland welcome and I know all those supporters out there will lift the guys that little bit extra and perhaps give us an edge over the other boats.''

Camper's latest estimated time of arrival in Auckland is between 4pm and 6pm tomorrow and Camper, Puma and Telefonica likely to be neck-and-neck for the final run up the Hauraki Gulf to the finish line off the Viaduct.

The closesness of the racing will prompt memories for Team New Zealand boss Grant Dalton, who was often on the wrong end of his duel with fellow Kiwi Peter Blake and Steinlager 2 throughout the entire 1989-90 Whitbread Round the World Race, including the battle to be first into Auckland.

The Volvo fleet took a battering overnight as they approached New Zealand as winds up to 31 knots and waves as big as 8m hit the boats.

Groupama managed the conditions well, maintaining 13 knots as they retained the handy lead they have held for most of the fourth leg.

Groupama helmsman Charles Caudrelier said they were exhausted after a night of sail changes and tacking in strong but they remained resolute to hold their lead to the finish.

"There's tiredness, for sure, and pressure of course,'' he said. "Pressure not to break anything, not to loose the race now. Yet there is some euphoria on board as we are quite far ahead. We have sailed a beautiful race but there is always the fear of losing at the last moment.''