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SailGP: Slingsby wins Grand Final and $1million in tight battle with Kiwis

by Richard Gladwell/ 8 May 02:32 BST 8 May 2023
New Zealand SailGP Team and Australia SailGP Team pass the finish marker on Race Day 2 of the Mubadala SailGP Season 3 Grand Final in San Francisco, USA. Sunday, May 7, 2023 © Ricardo Pinto/SailGP

Australia SailGP crew led by Tom Slingsby led from start to finish in the Grand Final sailed on San Francisco Bay to win by a narrow margin from a fast finishing New Zealand crew.

The New Zealand comeback was at odds with their performance in the earlier stanzas of the six race series, where their best place was a third in one of the five races.

Australia SailGP added the Season 3 title to their Season 1 and 2 wins, and won their third $1million winner takes all purse.

The third Grand Finalist was Emirates Great Britain, skippered by the greatest sailing Olympian, Ben Ainslie.

The British and Australians dominated the racing in the five preliminary events, with the New Zealanders looking to have serious flaws in their boatspeed, tactics and startline performance.

Slingsby and Burling locked horns in the final stages of the Grand Final start, with Slingsby getting control of the three-boat match race to leeward of the Kiwis, luffing Burling, before breaking off to make the final run for the startline.

The Kiwis made a better fist of this tactic than in previous races, hitting the line at the same time as Emirates GB and Australia, with their option being to try and drive over the top of the other two and gaining the lead at Mark 1, despite sailing a longer distance.

They just missed getting into a position where they could cross Slingsby, while Ainslie grabbed the inside berth and was first to gybe away.

Burling was still the give way boat and at the mercy of Slingsby to be able to make their gybe at the top of Leg 2. The Kiwis were pushed close to the course boundary before Slingsby released control, and they started Leg 2, trailing Ainslie and Slingsby - with the Final looking set to be a rerun of what had been seen in the previous five fleet races.

The Brits and Australians had the race under control in the final stages of Leg 4 of 6, with Burling and friends over 230 metres behind with 1400metres left on the leg. The Kiwis had trailed the race leaders around the previous mark, and their only tactical option to save the Final was to split gybes and opt for the City shore, where the pressure was highly variable, causing Australia to fall off their foils in the previous leg.

As they gybed off the shore, Burling got a sniff of what Italian AC Challenger Luna Rossa co-helmsman Francesco Bruni termed the "Kiwi Puff", in the last America's Cup. Coming across the course to get between Ainslie and Slingsby, and disrupting their procession on the other side, with both sailing downwind at speeds of over 35kts. Burling was doing a similar speed, but came out at a much deeper angle, cutting Slingsby's lead down to 100 metres.

Burling continued the tactic of splitting sides with the race leaders, trailing by just 9secs at the penultimate mark.

The ""Kiwi Puff" was not on the San Francisco shore catching Emirates GB, dropping them off theor foils on the first tack and turning the Grand Final into a two-boat race. Burling could now focus on attacking Slingsby, whose only tactical option was to stay between "his man and the hoop" to defend his 100metre lead, with 300 metres left to sail on the leg, before heading for the finish.

Burling tacked at the 300metre mark, with Slingsby responding on the 200metre line, and promptly fell off his foils - with Burling in hot pursuit at almost 30kts with Slingsby struggling at 18kts and needing to get back onto his foils. To add to the tension both were coming into the Final mark on port tack, with one last tack remaining.

As they simo-tacked for the final mark, the separation closed down to 19 metres, with Burling to leeward. It was then a race to gain rights mark rounding, which Slingsby was able to achieve by 23 metres, or just over a boat length, stretching out to 35metres for the final short fast reach to the Finish line and the $1million prize.

Burling's only hope was for a foil control error by the Australians - but it was not to be - and it was a very relieved and jubilant Australian crew who took the race and the winner take all prize.

The Kiwis were 6secs in arrears with Emirates GB 23secs behind Australia.

Additional Images:

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