Skip to content

SailGP’s SoCal “La La Land” Adventure

For an event that has, for all practical purposes, “popped up” on the schedule, it could not have been more chock-full of surprises. The Spanish Team, which was on the ropes last year and hanging by a thread, pulled off a shock by not only winning the weekend, but beating the unbeatable Australians in the process. In just his fifth event at the helm of an F50, Spanish driver Diego Botin led his Spain SailGP Team to a stunning victory at the Oracle Los Angeles Sail Grand Prix. It was his first-ever podium final, as he delivered a perfect start and was never caught, defeating Nicolai Sehested’s ROCKWOOL Team Denmark and Tom Slingsby’s Australian Team. The Spanish squeaked into the final by edging out the Canadians in the final Fleet Race, for their spot!

“This is amazing; we have been through some quite hard times as a team lately, and we really didn’t expect this to happen. We are behind the other teams in some areas, but we got in a good position,” Botin said. “It’s such a small course: Anything can happen, and we managed to pull the win off. It’s a huge motivation for the team, and we are just so proud of ourselves.”

SailGP winners season 4
The Spanish Team celebrate winning with the trophy at the Oracle Los Angeles Sail Grand Prix in the Port of Los Angeles
© 2023 Ricardo Pinto/SailGP

“It was quite an emotional day today. We got off to a very good start with the race win in the first race — a perfect start, and then in the second one we didn’t manage to start well. We were struggling with the penalties with the French. We couldn’t take them off and we lost heaps there. At the end we managed to pass [the Canadians]. To be honest, after the finish we didn’t know we had made it to the final.”

USA SailGP Team and Spain SailGP Team nip and tuck as the Spanish capture the position with just a few feet to spare.
© 2023 Ricardo Pinto/SailGP

“We got in a big lull at the end of that last downwind [in the podium final], and the Danish and the Aussies were coming foiling from behind with the gust, and there was some tension there because if they’d managed to foil all the way through they would have passed us. But we just focused on staying in the pressure and copying them when they got close, and we managed to stay ahead,” Botin said.

Slingsby and his crew were hoping to close off Australia’s week of global sporting success, led by the Matildas and the Australian cricket team, and overcome adversity to punch their ticket into the Podium Final. The team survived a near race-ending disaster when the Flying Roo’s jib sheet, which is essential to maintain the F50s speed, broke during the fourth qualifying fleet race. Some quick thinking by grinder Sam Newton, who tied the sheet onto the jib, saved the race for the Australians, allowing the team to limp over the finish line in second place.

Kinley Fowler, grinder of Australia SailGP Team, runs across the boat as the Australia SailGP Team lead New Zealand SailGP Team on Race Day 1.
© 2023 Simon Bruty/ SailGP

“I guess part of the reason I’m frustrated with the result is because we definitely faced adversity today, whether that be our jib sheet breaking or us taking on weed on our foils. But our team were able to fix it quickly and still sail really well,” Slingsby said. “I feel that we sailed the best we have sailed in a long time, which is why I’m so angry right now. I feel we deserved that one with how well we sailed. I’m sure I’ll calm down, but right now it’s pretty raw.”

The Aussies weren’t able to bring home the event trophy, with a poor start in the Podium Final allowing the Spanish to take an early lead. It then became a dogfight for second place between them and the Danish. The Flying Roo then took on the weed, which handicapped the boat’s speed and sealed the Australians’ fate in third place.

“I am still really happy for the Spanish, and it’s exciting to see another contender up there. I remember our first win in SailGP, and that elation you feel,” Slingsby said.

The Port of L.A. is known for its steady, if not heavy, breezes, but the winds played fickle games all weekend, and the SailGP F50s were originally fitted with the 24m “all-purpose” wing. It was then a “call to arms” when race management called for the 29m wings instead. The call to move to the largest wing came after lighter winds than expected were forecast, with Los Angeles’s thermal acceleration zone known as Hurricane Gulch failing to show up.

“The call to switch came pretty late, but everyone in SailGP is able to adapt,” said French Team driver Quentin Delapierre. “If the clouds stay like this I think it will be pretty light, but it’s SailGP; you just have to adapt yourself every time.”

Paul Campbell-James, Team USA wing trimmer, commented, “It takes around 45 minutes [per boat] to extend the wing from 24m to 29m. They’re just doing the first wings that will be lifted now, and then we’re going to try and bang through them as the day goes. Hopefully we’ll make it in time.” They did.

It was a challenging and very disappointing weekend for the Kiwis as they dropped from first to fifth on the Season 4 leaderboard. The team was blindsided by a controversial penalty, which forced them to drop from second to fifth in the second fleet race of the day. It occurred in Race Two, as New Zealand worked their way to second before being penalized for not giving room at the mark to Team USA. “Personally I’m blown away by how we got a penalty in that situation,” Team New Zealand driver Peter Burling said.

“I spoke to Jimmy [Spithill] who our penalty was against, and he didn’t even know it was on us. I think the umpires need to have a little look at themselves after that and how they can make better decisions going forward,” Burling said. “It’s an awesome racecourse here. It’s so cool having the top marks so close to the fans on shore. It would definitely be pretty tight if we got 20 knots, but with conditions like we had in those first two races today, it was absolutely perfect.”

Strategically, New Zealand navigated downwind to get behind Team USA, while also putting themselves back on the windier side of the course. But it wasn’t enough to make up significant lost ground. Denmark, who executed flawlessly from start to finish, won Race Two ahead of Australia in second, and Spain in third.

In many ways, the weekend win was a popular victory for the Spanish Team. Not only amongst their competitors, but also with the Southern California fan base in the L.A. area. Especially since the USA Team seem to be light years away from being competitive. Team USA’s skipper and CEO continues to juggle his lineup, as Erica Reincke returned from IR (injured reserve) as strategist. In perhaps one of the most exciting moments of the weekend, and foretelling the Spanish fortunes and the USA struggles, Spain was able to foil past the Americans at the line in Race 1, Day 1 to capture critical points on a tight leaderboard.

The foiling fleet of 10 boats tightly packed at the start, with the cranes of the Port of L.A. in San Pedro providing a “scenic” backdrop!
© 2023 Ricardo Pinto/SailGP

Overall it was an exciting and well-attended weekend in the stands, and with the spectator fleet near the racecourse. Next up is the France Sail Grand Prix in the Gulf of Saint-Tropez on September 9–10.

Scott Sellers and his daughter Merritt Sellers (15) of Larkspur have just finished First in Class in the Chicago Race to Mackinac, after starting in last. They were over early and had to pick off the boats one by one!

Merritt and Scott Sellers of Larkspur, aboard their J/111 Nosurprise after this morning’s win.
© 2023 Mark Reid

We’ll have the full story in Wednesday’s ‘Lectronic Latitude.

Leave a Comment

Get Your Hands on a Copy
Max Ebb attends a recent Harbor Commission meeting to join the discussion about the Bay Area's ferry system.