Quentin Delapierre’s French team steal the headlines with a well-earned first event victory in Cadiz
The win marks Delapierre’s one-year anniversary with the team and moves the French squad up to third overall in the season three rankings
SailGP’s third season is proving more and more difficult to predict as each event goes by.
The focus over the last few regattas has been on a sparkling run of form from Peter Burling’s New Zealand crew that saw them win in Plymouth and Denmark before placing second in St Tropez to close the gap on their Antipodean rivals Australia to just a single point.
No surprise then that the question on everyone’s lips in the run up to this weekend’s mid-season event in Cadiz, Spain was whether this momentum would carry the Kiwis past Tom Slingsby’s misfiring Aussie crew who hadn’t made it to an event final their last three outings.
As compelling as that story might have been, it wasn't the one that played out on the rolling Atlantic swells that reflected off Cadiz’s towering sea wall to create challenging conditions for the foiling F50 crews.
Instead, the spotlight was turned to Quentin Delapierre’s French team who sailed smartly and consistently in the qualifying rounds to lead the fleet at the end of the qualifying rounds to make it to their second event final of the season.
Joining them for the six-leg, four crew-member final were Jimmy Spithill’s American crew. The US team will have been relieved to prove that their overall victory in St Tropez was no flash in the pan as they try to rebuild their season after a torrid time in the early events.
The Australians also made it into the final – but not so the New Zealanders. After winning the opening race on Saturday, Burling’s squad looked increasingly uncertain and in the end could only manage sixth overall.
When the Aussies fell off the foils on the first gybe of the downwind leg of the Cadiz final the rest of the deciding race was fought out tooth-and-nail between the French and the American crews who were just boat lengths apart throughout.
It was truly edge-of-the-seat watching with both teams highly motivated: the United States crew to pull off a second consecutive victory; and the French desperate to prove themselves season three contenders by winning their first event.
At the final leeward gate Spithill looked to have grabbed the upper hand when he dived inside Delapierre at the right hand mark to snatch the lead. Seconds later though the US boat crashed off the foils and the French were able to tack away to regain the lead.
The battle was still raging as the pair converged on the last windward turn mark with Spithill once again demonstrating perfect timing to tack on to the starboard layline ahead of the fast approaching French boat.
France’s extra speed enabled them to roll over the top of the US boat as they rounded the mark and the pair were then bow to bow as they drag raced to the finish. Four seconds was the margin at the line – with the French just able to edge ahead to take a well deserved victory.
France’s first SailGP win comes on the anniversary of French Nacra 17 Olympian Delapierre taking charge for the first time in Cadiz a year ago, replacing the team’s previous skipper Billy Besson.
Charged with leading a French SailGP, a key part of Delapierre’s strategy was to sail with an all French team who communicate in their native language on board. Even when the results did not reflect it, the team has looked more and more accomplished at each event this season with Delapierre appearing increasingly comfortable in the skipper’s role.
The fact that four different teams each won races during the five-heat qualifying series – New Zealand, Great Britain, Australia, Canada (2) – with only the Australians making it to the final tells you something about how close the racing is these days in SailGP.
The French might not have won a main fleet race but they sailed a cool and composed series that saw them avoid turning a bad race into a disastrous result and gave them a leaderboard-topping 2,4,3,5,3 scoreline ahead of the final.
Their victory in Cadiz moves Delapierre’s squad up to third overall in the season three rankings, one point ahead of fourth-placed Great Britain – who despite a race win and other flashes of brilliance were hamstrung by rudder problems on Sunday – and five points behind second-place New Zealand who lost three points to the long-time season leaders Australia.
There is no sailGP event in October as the circuit transitions to the United Arab Emirates for the seventh event of season three in Dubai over the weekend of November 12/13.