SailGP: Stunning opening weekend hails return of series

High winds on the second day of racing for the SailGP season opener saw thrills spills and a surprise win. The event could hardly have been a better advert for the season to come

Sir Ben Ainslie’s British team took the opening victory in an action-packed SailGP in Bermuda, which saw close racing, collisions, capsizes and more as the eight foiling F50 catamarans fought it out in five fleet races and a final winner-takes-all race.

The opening weekend of SailGP season 2 looked set, for much of the weekend, to continue where the first season left off, with season 1 champions, Tom Slingsby’s Team Australia, the clear standout performer over the weekend of racing in Bermuda.

Slingsby and his team took an impressive four wins over the course of the weekend. However, when it really mattered, Sir Ben Ainslie’s Great Britain SailGP Team took the final win of the weekend and in so doing were crowned event winners.

With his team of Luke Parkinson, Iain Jensen, Matt Gotrel, Neil Hunter and Richard Mason, Ainslie managed to sail past the Aussies in the final podium race to win by just four seconds, claiming his place at the top of the season leaderboard.

The Brits had a disappointing first day of the regatta , finishing the opening day in sixth place of the eight boat fleet. But with racing designed to be decided on the final race, the event is simply a case of doing enough to qualify for the final race and it is anyone’s game from there.

Of the thrilling final Ainslie said: “It was a cracking race. It was awesome. It’s what we want to do it for; go against the top sailors in the world in conditions like this – it was perfect. It was a huge credit to the team, we really struggled yesterday, but we analysed what went wrong and today was a much better day and I am delighted with the result, it’s a great way to start the season.

Slingsby said: “It was a great race. We feel a little hard done by, as we sailed so well all week. But those are the rules – you’ve got to win that last race, and we were close but not quite there.”

Ainslie's SailGP team leap from the water

The Brits get close to a capsize on the opening weekend of SailGP. Photo: Javier Salinas / SailGP

Great Britain and Australia were joined by France in the final race, with Besson’s team – with the addition of Great Britain’s Leigh McMillan onboard – securing its first ever podium finish in SailGP.

Elsewhere, there were plenty of dramatic moments with the F50’s sporting the smaller 18-meter wing for the first time in the building breeze. This smaller wingsail is part of the continual upgrades the fleet undergo from season to season, allowing the class to develop, but maintaining one-design racing between the identical boats.

Perhaps the biggest gasps of the weekend were reserved for newcomer to the series, Jimmy Spithill, at the helm of the US team. He had a nerve-wracking collision with Nathan Outteridge’s Japan team in the first race of the day – that took both boats out for the remainder of the racing and also saw Spithill’s F50 on its side on the Great Sound shortly after the collision. There was also a triple penalty for Phil Robertson’s Spanish team after a risky maneuver at the start of race five that perhaps cost the team its place in the final podium race, missing out by just one point.

America’s Cup winners and Olympic champions Peter Burling and Blair Tuke had a better day on their SailGP debut for New Zealand. Moving up from the bottom of the leaderboard after day one, to finish a respectable fifth place, just behind the Spanish team. They may still be learning the ropes to some extent but by their own high standards it will be an opening weekend to forget for two-time America’s Cup winners, Burling and Tuke.

Nicolai Sehested’s Denmark SailGP Team presented by Rockwool took sixth place. Japan and the United States sit at the bottom of the leaderboard after the day’s drama.

Thrills and spills for sailGP weekend one

Photo: Bob Martin / SailGP

SailGP CEO Sir Russell Coutts said: “Quite simply that was the best racing I think I have ever seen on television for a sailing event. What a day, there was drama, fantastic quality of racing, lots of lead changes – it just had everything. Unfortunately it had a crash but you are going to get that in high level racing every now and then but it was really exciting stuff.

“I think it just showed again what a fabulous venue Bermuda is to run international sailing competitions and for a SailGP event, it is absolutely perfect. We missed the crowds due to the current pandemic but everyone saw what the racing was like and what a stunning backdrop Bermuda is and that’s the main thing. I couldn’t be more thrilled with Bermuda and we certainly want to come back for many years to come.”

Season Leaderboard:
1: Great Britain / 10 points
2: Australia / 9 points
3: France / 8 points
4: Spain / 7 points
5: New Zealand / 6 points
6: Denmark / 5 points
7: Japan / 4 points
8: United States / 3 points


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Source: Yachting World

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