Great Britain on top after a light wind opening day in Dubai
Skill, tenacity, and perhaps some good fortune, delivered two race wins and a sixth place for Ben Ainslie’s Great Britain SailGP Team
Skill, tenacity, and perhaps some good fortune, delivered two race wins and a sixth place for Ben Ainslie’s Great Britain SailGP Team on the first day of racing in Dubai in the seventh event of SailGP’s third season.
The British team top the standings tonight on 25 points with Jimmy Spithill’s United States crew and Peter Burling’s New Zealand team in second and third respectively, both on 20 points.
With the warm waters off Dubai failing to deliver the forecast breezes the teams – racing with the largest 29 metre wing configuration – had to make do with 10 knots for the start of race one with the wind strength dropping slowly over the day to little over five knots by the start of the third race.
That meant none of the high-adrenaline crash and burn action the mainstream SailGP fans love to see, but there was still plenty to keep the sailing-initiated community entertained, nevertheless.
With what must be the shortest racecourse we have ever seen at a SailGP event – the course length was reportedly shorter than Dubai’s iconic skyscraper the Burj Khalifa is tall – getting off the line fast with a clear lane was even more important than ever today.
Never was this better demonstrated than in today’s opening race when Phil Robertson’s Canada crew made the best of a congested start line to pop out of the middle of the pack to lead around the first turning mark.
From there the Canadians were in complete control. The first to gybe after the turn mark they accelerated down the first leeward leg to round the leeward gate well ahead. They pulled away steadily from the pack on every subsequent leg and were the only boat to finish the course within the 16 minute time limit.
Meanwhile, Quentin Delapierre’s French squad sailed a solid race to take second, with Nicolai Sehested’s Danish crew squeaking around the final windward mark in second ahead of Burling’s New Zealanders who had to settle for fourth.
With the breeze now down to seven knots at the start of race two it was the New Zealand crew who made the best of the start to lead from the British at the first turn.
The Kiwis looked to be in control throughout the race until – with the race shortened to finish at the second leeward gate – in the closing stages of final downwind leg they got out of synch with the breeze and allowed Ainslie’s British crew to make the most of a private patch of breeze so slide past and take the win.
By the start of race three the wind was under six knots and the race committee reduced the crew numbers to four on board.
After a tightly packed and somewhat querulous final 30 seconds into the start – when Ainslie inflicted a windward boat penalty on Robertson before Robertson did the same to Tom Slingsby’s Australian crew second after the gun – it was the American crew who made the most of a fast start at the windward end of the line to round the turn mark ahead.
With the light winds turning the race into little more than a driftathon, the race committee had to shorten twice – first to four legs and then to three. The US crew and the British had pulled away from the pack and engaged in their own private match race which ultimately saw Ainslie’s squad once again sneak into the lead in the closing stages to take their second victory of the day.
More breeze is expected for tomorrow in Dubai with winds in the 12 to 20 knot range on the forecast – a prediction which will surely come as good news for all concerned. Three more fleet races are on the slate followed by the all-important final three-way shoot-out between the podium teams.