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Tom Slingsby and Ben Ainslie's rivalry erupts on first day of Sydney SailGP

by Sacha Kemp 28 Feb 15:24 GMT 28-29 February 2020
Australia SailGP Team helmed by Tom Slingsby sails past Sydney Tower as they warm up before the first race on Race Day 1 - Sydney SailGP © Bob Martin for SailGP

Sir Ben Ainslie, the most successful sailor in Olympic history, had a debut to remember as he skippered the Great Britain team to victory in all three races on Day One of the season-opening Sydney SailGP leg. But homegrown fans need not despair, with Tom Slingsby's Australia Team sitting pretty in second, yet to showcase their full arsenal of skills, and not intimidated by their British rivals.

"We know we can beat Ben and his team, the scorecard looks terrible for us today but we are confident against him and we just need to stop making mistakes," Australia SailGP Team Helmsman Tom Slingsby said.

"It wasn't ideal out there, it was a bit frustrating if anything - we had potential, but we just made too many mistakes. The whole fleet is racing at a higher level than last year, and when we're not sailing that great it shows.

"I'm not worried about the Great Britain team, but it was impressive how well they were doing and they were just sailing better than everybody else. We've got to go and look at all the footage, but the way the format works we've just got to have two good races tomorrow, make it into the top two and get into that match race."

Ainslie, competing in SailGP for the first time in the Championship's second season, had been identified by last year's top-finishing helmsmen Slingsby (Australia) and Nathan Outerridge (Japan) as the man to watch, and their prophecies came to fruition with a dominant display securing Great Britain a maximum of 30 points on a dramatic afternoon.

Defending champion Australia managed to secure second place on the overall leaderboard alongside Japan, finishing with 23 points, ahead of USA (19), who impressed in perfect sailing conditions as the wind reached speeds of 26 kilometres per hour.

A collision between the Spaniards and Billy Besson's French team saw the latter unable to continue beyond the opening race, with the Spanish team docked a total of 9 points for their actions to finish the day on 15, while Denmark (13) were docked 2 points for colliding with Japan in the same race. Both young teams, Spain and Denmark showed plenty of exciting glimpses and will continue to have a major influence on proceedings on Day Two.

Ainslie praised the conditions, as well as the work of his team.

"You can't really ask for better conditions than that, 15-20 knots southerly on Sydney Harbour. There were a lot of difficult manoeuvres to be executed, but I think our team did a great job and the guys on the boat were fantastic. We are delighted with three wins and will try and build on that going into tomorrow.

"I'm still learning this boat and I have a fantastic team around me, which is key. The guys are sailing really well and pointed me in the right direction - it's a good start and we're in good shape.

"The forecast for tomorrow is for lighter winds, so we will look at the boat setup for lighter airs and hopefully we can make it into the match race, and then if we can do that it's a whole different game. It's been quite a while since I've been in a match race, so I will go and study some of those videos too."

Racing continues tomorrow at 4:30pm for the final day of racing, which will feature two fleet races, followed by the match race between the two leading teams on points.

Sydney SailGP, 2020: Day One Standings:

  • 1st: Great Britain SailGP Team 30pts
  • 2nd: Australia SailGP Team 23pts
  • 2nd: Japan SailGP Team 23pts
  • 4th: United States SailGP Team 19pts
  • 5th: Spain SailGP Team 15pts (9 pts deducted for damaging France boat in Race One)
  • 6th: Denmark SailGP Team 13pts (2 pts deducted for contact with Japan in Race One)
  • 7th: France SailGP Team 5pts

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