New Zealand mastered tricky light wind conditions with perfect positioning and tactical nous to seize the first victory of Season 4 in Chicago.
The Kiwis beat arch rivals Australia and Phil Robertson’s Canada to top the leaderboard after two days of close-to-shore racing on Lake Michigan.
Despite pressure from Tom Slingsby’s crew, it was the Kiwis who commanded the race from the start, securing the best angle to Mark One and sneaking inside at the top gate.
The winner-takes-all Final culminated in a slow motion drag race to the finish line, which ultimately saw Peter Burling’s crew sneak over the line to start the new season at the top of the leaderboard.
Speaking after racing, Burling commended the ‘awesome effort by the whole team’, and highlighted their calm communication and ‘composure’ under ‘stressful’ circumstances.
“When it’s light, you look around and you’ve got all the time in the word but it’s amazing how such a short racecourse can have so much going on – you make one little mistake and you just get passed.”
He added that it was an ‘awesome way to bounce back’ from last month’s Season 3 Grand Final, which saw the Kiwis narrowly miss out on the Championship title to Australia.
Light winds and the F50’s biggest 29m wing posed unique challenges to the fleet’s reduced four person crews, but proved an opportunity for the young teams of Spain and Switzerland. Both teams picked picked up race wins in the final two fleet races of the event and Diego Botin’s Spanish crew recorded a decent 5th place overall finish.
Despite excelling in light wind conditions in Saint-Tropez last season, Jimmy Spithill’s United States failed to repair its poor first day performance and finished their first home event in ninth place. Chicago also proved disappointing for Quentin Delapierre’s France and Ben Ainslie’s Emirates GBR, which finished in sixth and seventh respectively after barely featuring in fleet racing.
Germany continued its drama-free racing debut and picked up its best result yet in the fourth fleet race, finishing 7th.
The 10-strong F50 fleet will next meet at the Oracle Los Angeles Sail Grand Prix, which gets underway on July 22-23.