Sir Ben Ainslie’s British team scored three bullets in the three fleet races on Friday, kicking off the second season of SailGP in Sydney Harbour. On Saturday, after a win in Race 4 and a fourth in Race 5, the Brits sealed the deal against second-place Tom Slingsby and the Australian team.
Friday’s Three Fleet Races
Following the racing on Friday, Ainslie said, “You can’t really ask for better conditions than that — 15-20 knots, southerly on Sydney Harbour. It was a real challenge for all the teams, because the wind was so shifty, which meant a lot of difficult maneuvers needed to be executed.”
A collision early in Race 1 meant the new Spanish team, skippered at the moment by Kiwi stand-in Phil Robertson, missed out on a podium finish. Robertson and the Spanish team were heading toward a race boundary and lost rights to France, eventually clipping the French boat. France had to drop out of Race 2 and 3 due to boat damage, leaving just six of the foiling F50 catamarans on the course.
The SailGP race jury determined that the Spain team had inflicted serious damage to the French boat. They docked the newcomers nine points — five points from the first race and an additional two points for each of the two races that France missed. The new Denmark SailGP Team also collected a two-point penalty for making contact with the Japanese boat in the first race.
With a big wind shift in Race 2, Ainslie picked the left side of the course. American Rome Kirby went right. The two teams battled up to the top mark. Ainslie snuck in front, ultimately leading the fleet to the finish line.
Saturday’s Two Fleet Races
Ainslie picked up where he left off on Friday, notching a fourth consecutive win while the Australia and Japan teams placed second and third. Olympic champions Slingsby and Nathan Outteridge (skippering the Japanese boat) battled back and forth all of Season 1. This pair went into Race 5 with a spot in the match race on the line.
Australia jumped out to an early lead that it never relinquished, with Slingsby guiding the defending champion to its first race win of the season and setting up a showdown with Ainslie. The Australians showed notable improvement on the second day of racing.
Slingsby said, “We seem to usually go better on our final day. It was nice today to perform when the pressure was on. We knew we had to beat Japan. It was all going well until the last race, where we made a big mistake at the start.” Japan featured in every match race last season.
The young Spanish team and helmsman Phil Robertson earned three second-place finishes over the course of the event, establishing themselves as podium contenders for Season 2.
Match Race Finale
In the finale, the match race between Britain and Australia, the British team got out to an early lead. The Australians found themselves behind from the start after incurring a penalty for entering the start box early.
The victory marked Great Britain’s first event win in the league. “It’s certainly been one of the best sailing events I’ve ever taken part in,” said Ainslie. “Incredible conditions on the harbor. It’s been magical.”
Great Britain tops the leaderboard with 47 points, followed by Australia with 42, Japan with 39, Spain with 31, the United States at 31, Denmark with 22, and France with 14 points.
California Here We Come
San Francisco will host the next regatta in the series on May 2-3. At the first US event of Season 2, all seven boats will sport new modular wingsails. The intent is get the F50s to fly to record-breaking speeds.