A dramatic afternoon in Cadiz ended with Australia winning the Spain Sail Grand Prix to return to the top of the SailGP Season Championship ahead of their home event in Sydney in December.
The Aussies, who have now won three events this season, beat the United States and Great Britain in the winner-takes-all Final, aided in part by the Brits’ early capsize which ended their race just seconds after it began. The windy conditions in Cadiz claimed not only Great Britain, but also the event hosts themselves – with Spain ruled out the entirety of Sunday’s racing due to a capsize in practice which caused major damage to the F50 Victoria.
Despite the fleet containing only seven boats rather than the usual eight, the racing was as dramatic as ever as the strong winds made manoeuvring tricky and also resulted in an event top speed of a remarkable 96.3 km/h set by Tom Slingsby’s Australia.
The Aussies preceded their win in the Final by claiming victory in the last fleet race of the day, the team’s only fleet race win of the entire weekend. But some fine consistency – they never finished lower than fourth in any race in Cadiz – was the cornerstone to Australia’s performance and event win – a win which returns Slingsby’s team back to the top of the overall leaderboard.
The United States, runners-up in Cadiz after a disappointing showing in the Final, sit second in the Season Championship, level on points with Japan in third. Great Britain, who claimed eight points despite their capsize in the event decider, sit a further four points back in fourth.
New Zealand, who won the opening race on Day 2 in Cadiz, ended the event in fifth place – the same position they currently sit in the overall rankings. This victory marked Peter Burling’s first ever race win in SailGP, as the Kiwis’ only other win came in Taranto while Arnaud Psarofaghis was driving their F50 on an interim basis.
Spain’s unfortunate pre-race capsize condemned the hosts to an unfortunate seventh place finish, dropping behind a Danish team who failed to replicate their impressive Race Day 1 form on Day 2.
Nonetheless, despite missing two races across the weekend, Spain still finished ahead of France. New Driver Quentin Delapierre had few expectations for this event given he has had just a week’s worth of training on the F50, and two last place finishes on Race Day 1 seemed par for the course.
But Delapierre’s potential did shine through during Sunday’s racing, as he coped well with the strong winds to power France to a fourth place finish in the final fleet race of the weekend – perhaps hinting at a brighter future for the struggling French team.
Pitchpole in Podium Final for Great Britain SailGP team
The second and final day of the Spain Sail Grand Prix in Cadiz-Andalusia brought a significant change in conditions, as 30-40KM/H gusts blowing from the city on the east met the Atlantic swell from the west, resulting in a dramatic course for high-octane SailGP racing.
Speaking ahead of racing, Great Britain SailGP Team CEO Ben Ainslie predicted the racing would be an ‘all action war of attrition’ and he was not wrong. The day’s drama started even before racing, as Phil Robertson’s Spain SailGP Team capsized in the pre-race warm-up, resulting in serious damage to the Spanish wingsail which meant they unfortunately had to pull out of their home Grand Prix.
Starting the day in fourth place, the British team knew strong results would be required to qualify for the ‘winners-takes-all’ podium race and Ainslie and his crew delivered. In the very tricky conditions, the Great Britain SailGP Team finished in second place in both opening races, with their F50 being expertly piloted throughout.
The moment of the day, however, came in the first reach of the final podium race between Ainslie’s British team, Tom Slingsby’s Australia SailGP Team and Jimmy Spithill’s USA SailGP Team. After a perfectly timed start, the British team hit a gust on the first reach and stuck the bow in the water, resulting in a significant pitchpole at 70KM/H and the British F50 subsequently capsized.
Fortunately, both the crew and the British F50 were unharmed, as the team were quickly able to right the boat and even sail it back to shore. The Grand Prix was ultimately won by Slingsby’s Australia SailGP Team. Speaking on the day’s action and the team’s third place finish in the Spain Sail Grand Prix Ben Ainslie said:
“That was a full-on day with really breezy conditions. The first two races were good. We had a nice start in the second race especially and two second place finishes which was solid to get us through to the final podium race.
“It was a great line-up with us, USA and Australia in that podium race. We had a great start again and managed to get into the lead and then halfway across the first reach we got hit by a mega gust and between myself steering the boat, Gooby [Iain Jensen] on the wing and Maso [Richard Mason] on the jib we just didn’t get the trim and the balance of the boat right and stuck the bow in and managed to pitchpole it. That was massively frustrating as we’d done the hard bit with the start, it would have been a great race. It’s a shame but we have to learn from it. We are improving our performance and we have the package to be competitive across the wind range, but we just have to eliminate some of these mistakes that are costing us.
“Having Hannah onboard this weekend was brilliant, she’s such a star. She’s an amazing sailor and a great team player. She fitted in naturally, was helping with the boat handling in the lighter airs and across all the conditions she was playing a big role tactically in helping me make some of the key decisions. It felt like a natural combination.”
Hannah Mills, who raced onboard the British F50 for the first time this weekend added:
“I had the best weekend. We are obviously disappointed with what happened with the final race, but it was awesome to be on the boat, contributing and learning. It’s great to have this opportunity.
“The first couple of races today went really well, we were fast, making good decisions and had really good boat handling. We were confident going into that last race and executed the start well. We were blasting along that first reach and unfortunately things got a bit out of whack and in those conditions there’s not much room for error. We will be coming back to Sydney looking to win.”
The results of the Spain Sail Grand Prix leave the Great Britain SailGP Team in fourth on the overall Championship leaderboard, four points behind Spithill’s USA team and Nathan Outteridge’s Japan SailGP Team who are level on points in second and third respectively.
SailGP resumes in the Australia Sail Grand Prix on 17-18 December, where Ainslie’s Great Britain SailGP Team will be looking to repeat the success of their last visit to Sydney in 2020.
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