Consistency key to success as teams warm up in Copenhagen
There’s one commodity in very short supply on the SailGP circuit right now – and it’s something that money simply cannot buy
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Ask any of the nine teams currently camped out in Copenhagen, Denmark ahead of this weekend’s fourth event of the global high-performance circuit’s third season and they will tell you that the thing everyone is striving for is…. consistency.
It’s no surprise then that the ‘c-word’ was bandied about a lot at this morning’s skippers’ press conference on the eve of the first day of racing at the Denmark Sail Grand Prix taking place on the waters off the city’s Oceankaj cruise ship terminal.
In a fleet where the level seems to ratchet up a couple of clicks at every event, delivering a consistent performance is very much the name of the game for everyone – be they front runners, mid fleeters, or back markers.
Nicolai Shested, skipper of the home Denmark SailGP Team this weekend, knows this better than most. His team has been knocking on the door of a podium place at all three of this season’s regattas and finally made it to the final last month in Plymouth.
“We plan to do the same again and find a spot on the podium,” Sehested declared today. “But it is not going to be easy. This is a fantastic fleet and at a high level, so we will have our work cut out for us.”
Unlike some other newcomers to SailGP in recent times, when the Danes joined the circuit in season two they did it with a full crew of Danish passport holders. Since then the tight knit crew has learned the idiosyncrasies of their F50 catamaran the hard route.
There have been flashes of brilliance along the way – including race wins – but it took until the British SailGP for them to finally squeak their way into the final three-way race to decide the overall event winner.
“It is a long process to be able to be consistent – and that’s the goal,” Sehested confirmed. “It is a bit of a process and it takes time to get up to speed in these boats. We have always known we needed to be patient, to keep our heads down, and the results would come. But we need to continue working hard because the level is just getting better and better every single Grand Prix.”
Peter Burling’s New Zealand SailGP Team also made it into its first event final and went two better than the third placed Danish to claim their first regatta win since joining the circuit in season two.
Similarly to Sehested, Burling said the team’s long sought-after success had come as a result of following a process of “making small gains in every area” at each event.
“I think we did a good job of bringing it all together in Plymouth,” he said. “Before that event we talked a lot about consistency and really making sure we didn’t do anything out of the ordinary – but just did everything well. That’s what we will be trying to do again this weekend.
The Australia SailGP Team’s prolonged unbeaten run came to an end in Plymouth where Tom Slingsby’s crew had to make do with finishing second to the Kiwis. Slingsby said his team had left the UK feeling that they hadn’t sailed as well as they knew they were capable of.
“The level wasn’t as high as we wanted,” he said. “I think that we also felt that in Chicago when we got away with a win there – even though we didn’t feel like we were sailing to our potential.”
The Australian skipper is forthright in his analysis of his team’s performance but shoulders much of the blame himself for being too conservative in the start box.
“Frankly, my starts haven’t been good enough,” he said. “We have been trying a few different things – trying to take away the risk at the start and get away more consistently off the line – and it has actually worked against us a little.
“In these boats you kind of need to take risks and you have got to be coming to the line with speed. Even if that means there might not be many gaps for you to find, it is still a risk worth taking it seems.”
The Australians have consistently proved to be one of the few teams able to stage race comebacks from deep positions at the first turning mark.
“I am really proud of how we are able to come back through the fleet,” Slingsby said. “As a team we are strong at that and after a bad start we can salvage a decent result. But we don’t want to be so far back in the race in the first place.”
Another skipper who openly admitted to having struggled with his starting technique in Plymouth is Great Britain SailGP Team skipper Ben Ainslie.
“If we are not sailing well then I think we have tried to be open and honest about that,” he said at this morning’s press conference. “Like Tom was saying, we have tried a few things differently too and it didn’t really work for us either.
“All the teams are constantly on the search for those gains and it is no different for us. We have got a really good coach in Rob Wilson and he helps us to go through and analyse these things – particularly the starts.
“We will keep chipping away but we need to keep pushing to make those gains and be consistent,” Ainslie concluded.
After making the million dollar final race at the grand finale event of SailGP season two in San Francisco this March the United States SailGP Team led by double America’s Cup winner Jimmy Spithill has had a torrid opening three events this season – finishing fifth in Bermuda, eighth in Chicago, and seventh in Plymouth.
“Up until now we have been making more mistakes than the others and the results we have had are what we deserved [based on] the way we have been sailing.
Such a poor – by the team’s own high standards – string of results prompted an internal investigation to try to identify how they might turn things around. As Spithill described it: ‘There was some harsh questioning and we really pulled no punches’.
“We thought that after Chicago we made some good improvements,” he said. “[In Plymouth] our straight line speed on the upwind was good. Our results at mark one were good – I think ourselves and Canada dominated in that regard – but we definitely let ourselves down around the track. We made some decision-making mistakes and also in manoeuvres.
“We have been slowly making adjustments and improvements and we have to keep pushing forwards. The team is definitely putting the work in and we know what we have got to do. At this level with these sailors and teams there are no shortcuts.
“Nothing has really changed: you need to sail well, you need to sail consistently, and you need to keep the mistakes down.”
Almost as scarce a commodity as consistency in the SailGP world is on the water time for the teams to refine their existing skills and even develop new ones. Practice sessions only take place in the few days before events and time on the water tightly controlled by the SailGP management in an effort to keep things equal.
So it was a real blow to all the teams when the wind failed to materialise for yesterday afternoon’s scheduled practice. Winds were so light that the bank of offshore wind turbines that dominate the view from Oceankaj shore front were eerily stationary.
Happily things improved for today’s official practice racing with upwards of 10 knots of breeze keeping the Danish turbine blades spinning merrily and keeping the fleet of nine F50 catamarans up and fully foiling for the day’s three official practice races.
Not so happy with life was the British team who reportedly broke a rudder in a shallow spot before racing and had to be towed home. Likewise the Spanish also did not compete after sustaining similar damage yesterday.
The chances of today’s conditions for the Friday and Saturday race days are less certain – making the already tricky task of predicting the top three teams for the Copenhagen event even more challenging.
But based on today’s fast paced practice racing, as well as the usual suspects Australia, keep your eye on what appears to be a rejuvenated American squad, the Swiss season three newcomers who have ex-Japan SailGP Team skipper Nathan Outteridge on the helm for the first time, and Burling’s pumped up New Zealand crew.
Practice Race 1: USA, SUI, AUS
Practice Race 2: NZL, AUS, DEN
Practice Race 3: CAN, AUS, DEN