A poacher’s victory in Chicago leaves Slingsby’s Australians unbeaten in Season 3
Tom Slingsby’s Australian crew did it the hard way on the second day of the Chicago SailGP event on Lake Michigan – but somehow managed to come out on top once again.
Tom Slingsby’s Australia SailGP Team made the most of their opportunities out on Lake Michigan during the second day of the Chicago Sail Grand Prix to first bag the number three spot in the winner-take-all final and then deliver a dominant performance that saw them take a comfortable victory against the British and Canadian crews.
With light winds as low as four knots forecast for the Chicago end of Lake Michigan on Sunday morning the call had been made the previous evening to race with the largest of the three possible wing configurations – the towering 29-metre version.
By the time the first of the nine F50s arrived at the race area the waters inside the breakwater off Navy Pier were windless and glassy. It was a different story outside the breakwater, however, where there was enough wind for the SailGP catamarans to foil comfortably with a full crew of six.
The race committee had initially begun to set up a racecourse inside the breakwater with a finish line close to the spectator area in the event race village at the end of Navy Pier. But, with little or no prospect of running racing on the inside course area, the choice was made to move the course markers outside. Good for the sport and the TV audience, admittedly, but disappointing nevertheless for the fans on site.
Upgrading from the 24-metre all purpose (AP) wing configuration the teams used yesterday to the 29-metre version involves the addition of a five metre mast section as well as a corresponding new wing panel. Although the extra power delivered by the increased sail area helps the boats fly in the very low wind rage, the towering rig considerably changes the handling characteristics of the boat – a factor the wing trimmers, flight controllers, helmsmen would have to get used to.
Winds were in the eight to 10 knot range for the first race of the day (the fourth of the series) which meant foiling was not guaranteed all the way around the course.
Quentin Delapierre’s French team put a lacklustre 9,8,6 opening day behind them with a wire-to-wire victory ahead of the event leaders Phil Robertson’s Canadian team in second and Ben Ainslie’s second overall British crew in third.
The shock result of that race however was an uncharacteristic last place from Tom Slingsby’s normally slick Australian crew. That left them needing to win race five to have any hope of qualifying for the final three-way shootout ahead of Peter Burling’s New Zealand crew who remained in third overall despite making life hard for themselves with fifth place.
The odds were well and truly stacked against Slingsby and Co but only a fool would bet against the Australians who time after time have refused to be written off.
Canada and Australia both got off the line strongly in race five with the Canadians leading until a slow rounding at the leeward gate which allowed the Aussies to slide past and into what proved to be an unassailable lead. With New Zealand struggling in the back three all race Slingsby’s victory was enough to put him into the final three way head to head against the Canadians and the Brits.
With only three boats on the racecourse the final race was about raw speed and finesse – a scenario that plays to the Australian’s strengths.
A minor skirmish on the startline between Ainslie to leeward and Slingsby to windward could have resulted in a penalty for AUS but ultimately did not attract a penalty call from the umpires watching online.
The Australians were ahead at the first turn mark and were untouchable from then on in as Robertson in second opted to consolidate his advantage over Ainslie in third.
With two wins out of two events so far in the third season of SailGP the Australian's are beginning to look invincible.
Slingsby was quick to play down that sort of talk. He described the second stage of the Chicago event as a ‘day of two halves’ during which he said the team had been convinced their winning streak was well and truly over.
“We were so close to not being in that final,” he said. “We came dead last in the first race – as everyone saw – but we got a good start in the last fleet race and got out in front.
“I had a look round to see where New Zealand was and I saw them at the back of the pack. So I knew it was mathematically possible to make the final race and sure enough the points went our way.”
Slingsby described the fast and furious first reach of the final race as a ‘race of inches’ against the Canadian and British crews. “We managed to squeak around ahead and then we pinned our ears back and went for the line.”