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RS Sailing 2021 - LEADERBOARD

SailGP: Brits surprise leader after Day 1 in Halifax

by Richard Gladwell/Sail-World.com/nz 1 Jun 21:51 BST
Emirates Great Britain SailGP Team alongside Australia SailGP Team during practice racing ahead of the Rockwool Canada Sail Grand Prix in Halifax, Canada. May 2024 © Felix Diemer/SailGP

The British SailGP crew, skippered by double Olympic Gold medalist Giles Scott, were a surprise to top the overnight leaderboard after Day 1 of the Canada SailGP, sailed in Halifax, Canada.

Few pundits prior to the Canadian event, where the Brits were in seventh place overall on the season points, had the Emirates Great Britain team ahead on their tip sheet. The Brits' task of making the three-boat Grand Final looked to be more remote, with New Zealand all but taking the top place in next month's Grand Final.

No team dominated on a tricky, overcast day, and consistency was the hallmark of the three teams that top the overnight leaderboard.

Neither of the first two crews overall won a race, and both included a fifth place in their pointscore.

The fleet sailed with the medium rig and high performance foils in winds which started at 10 kts and increased to 15kts over the race period.

Spain (Diego Botin) won Race 1 in the top group from end-to-end, sailing in a 10kt breeze under leaden skies. Botin and friends took the lead on Leg 3. At the other end of the fleet there was another unexpected outcome - with the two top teams, Australia and New Zealand battling it out for last place. On the penultimate leg of the seven leg race, the Kiwis got out of jail jumping through the fleet from near last to fifth. Tom Slingsby (AUS) was unable to emulate the Kiwis fancy footwork, finishing 8th in the opening race.

Denmark followed the Spaniards' example in Race 2, taking the lead on Leg 3 and holding on until the finish. The Brits and Kiwis stayed mid-fleet with Burling again making one of his characteristic recoveries to finish second, with the Brits snatching a very countable fifth place at the finish. Australia was again contesting last place with the US team, but Slingsby was able to reclaim some vital places to finish sixth, but trailing the British, who had moved into fifth place after France was penalised on Leg 5.

Slingsby gave himself an uppercut between races, and returned to his usual form, making a strong start to Race 3 after the breeze increased to 16kts. Uncharacteristically he dropped into the middle of the fleet on Leg 3. As the fleet sailed Leg 5, Slingsby looked to have fifth place secured. But with all to play for, Slingsby split tacks and took the right hand side of the course, knocking the Kiwis off first, and then the leaders failed to cover the wily Australians, who again split tacks and took the right hand side of the course. Mid-way down Leg 6 Australia took the lead, and executed a neat maneuver at the final mark to hold their winning place through to the finish. After the race Slingsby claimed that the windshift they picked up at the final top mark was the only shift that went their way all day. He commented that "we weren't in phase with the shifts - and that responsibility falls on my shoulders."

"We've got the talent. We've got the skill set. We just need to put it all together. It was nice to finish well today, after two tough races, when I thought we were going to be back in the pack after Day 1. But this puts us in with a chance of making the Final - that last race win was what we needed."

After finishing 8th in Race 3, the dark horse Spain lie in fifth place overall on 20 points—just 3 points behind the overall leader — and are on track to overtake Australia (who finished sixth on the overall points from Day 1) on the Season 4 points table.

Their overnight lead might be a sign of better fortunes to come for the British team after an indifferent Series 4, during which skipper and CEO Ben Ainslie decided to step aside to focus on America's Cup commitments. His loyal lieutenant, Gilles Scott, took over the helm, assisted by double Gold medalist Hannah Mills as tactician. Despite today's result, the pair have a long way to go and need a lot of races to fall their way - if they are to make the Grand Final for the $ 2 million prize purse in San Francisco in July.

However, the Brits are 13 points out of the top three and will need to maintain today's form if they are to climb the points cliff and pick up at least a 13-point differential to be in with a chance of lifting the winner-take-all $2million purse for the winner of the Final Race in San Francisco.

Three times Grand Final winner Tom Slingsby (AUS) looked to be unable to make the cut for the event final, after two races, scoring an uncharacteristic th and 6th placings in the first two races, but threw down the gauntlet to all challengers with an emphatic win in Race 3. The Australian, who doesn't know when he is beaten, is just 2pts out of fourth overall and 3pts out of third overall hand has to be a favorite to make Sunday's Final in Halifax.

"We started well but weren't in phase with the shifts", was Slingsby's summary of the first two races of the day, adding that they only got one favourable windshift all day.

In the 15kt breeze, several competitors, including the race leaders, came off their foils at crucial moments. However, most were able to recover, dropping only a place at worst or, at best, allowing a lead extension.

To the delight of their fans, the Peter Burling-led Black Foils team (NZ) looked to have overcome their starting woes and in the last two races, secured the inside, or leeward, end of the start line - hitting the start at pace, but coping some rig turbulence from the starters stacked out to windward to windward. The inside line gave Burling the opportunity to either gybe early, if smothered by the windward boats or venture into Leg 2 and be able to gybe at will.

"It might not have looked that way from ashore, but it was challenging on the water." Kiwi skipper Peter Burling explained after their second place in Race 2. "The wind was shifty, and we were trying to keep in the pressure."

Maybe it was a letdown from the heady experience of christening their AC75 in Barcelona on Wednesday, but despite having a second place in the first race, the French team could not sustain the effort in the next two races, placing 7th and 6th despite getting off to a great start in Race 2.

The US team, which did a mid-season crew swap-out, was unable to improve on their result from the previous event in Bermuda, finishing in 10th and last place in each race. Just ahead of them on the leaderboard is the Swiss team helmed by Emirates Team NZ co-helm Nathan Outteridge, who finished the day in 9th overall with a 9,8,7 scorecard.

Racing continues tomorrow, Sunday, with two further fleet races to be sailed. The top three will contest a series Final to decide the overall winner.

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