Redemption day as Spithill’s USA crew finally emerges victorious in St Tropez
Light airs second day sees the United States, New Zealand and Great Britain take the podium places
In conditions that could not have been more of a contrast from yesterday’s fast and furious racing which took place in winds up to 30 knots Jimmy Spithill and the United States SailGP Team took their first event win in SailGP after a day of nail biting light wind racing in St. Tropez, France.
The American team sat in second place in the standings after yesterday’s extreme day on the water but had to change gears overnight to deal with painfully light winds in the six to eight knot range today that saw the nine boat fleet upgraded to the 29 metre wings and light wind foils.
The first race of the day saw Spithill in assertive form at the start to control the windward end of the line despite pressure from British skipper Ben Ainslie to leeward. These two were the fastest off the line and despite having to make an ultra-wide turn at mark one it was the USA crew that made the best of the downwind leg to round the right hand (looking upwind) gate mark in first.
The light winds on the first beat saw the crews having to choose between trying to foil at a lower angle but a higher speed, or sailing slower and higher by flying just the windward hull. The US crew and Peter Burling’s New Zealand crew stuck to displacement mode to round the windward gate in first and second with the British making early gains by foiling before switching to displacement mode to round third.
With the clock ticking down towards the 14-minute time limit, even with the race shortened to finish at the next leeward gate, it was touch and go whether the Americans would make it there in time to ensure the race counted. Despite drifting conditions in the last 100 metres Spithill & Co. managed to squeak their way across the line to claim first place with the rest of the positions reverting back to how the teams rounded the previous windward mark.
The SailGP race management were less fortunate with their timing in race five of the series with Phil Robertson’s leading Canadian crew failing to make the finish of the shortened course by just four seconds.
A subsequent change in wind direction meant the racecourse needed to be reset and the time that would take put paid to the chances of running the fifth fleet race within the all-important TV window.
The final three-way shoot -out final between the Kiwis, the American’s and the British was decided early in the race when the Americans were the only one of the three crews able to pull off a foiling gybe at the first turning mark.
That handed them an early lead that they managed to hang on to throughout the race despite sustained pressure from the Kiwis to take the win by a margin of just under 100 metres to seal their first ever SailGP event victory.
“It’s been a long time coming,” Spithill said. “Last season we qualified for a lot of podium races, including at this event where we were close to winning and lost it on the final leg. This is an incredible team: the shore crew, our coach Philippe Presti, and of course the athletes have done an incredible job.
“We have just been working really, really hard since the beginning of this season. We backed ourselves, we knew we would get there, we just needed to keep learning the lessons and not worry too much about what was said outside the team.”
Asked about the all-important foiling gybe – the only one of the day – in the final race, Spithill paid tribute to his flight controller Hans Henken.
“I thought Hans just sailed an incredible event, especially yesterday,” he said. “To be one of the benchmark teams in conditions we had never raced in before…man it was just a great thing to see him step up.”
Despite winning the event the American team has only been awarded six of their 10 championship points after being docked four of them by the umpires for a slow speed collision with the Quentin Delapierre’s French team during a leeward gate rounding in the now defunct fifth race.
“We got stuck down at the bottom gate with not much steerage, both hulls in the water and unfortunately – my mistake – we clipped the back of the French boat,” Spithill explained.
“It definitely wasn’t on purpose, it wasn’t high speed or dangerous, but when the boats touch someone is going to lose some points.”
New Zealand’s second place in St Tropez continues the team’s recent run of form having won in Plymouth and Copenhagen and sees them close within one point of overall leaders Tom Slingsby’s Australia SailGP Team – who this weekend failed to make the final for the second time in a row.
“As a group we are pretty happy with the way we sailed this weekend, getting a couple of wins on the board yesterday, and the way we sailed the first race today,” Burling said after racing today.
“I think we have come away with the most points from the weekend after the damage points are deducted and we are really happy to be on another podium.
You could definitely say this was an event of two halves. Yesterday was at the upper end of what we can sail these boats in under control and it was all about getting the boat around the track in good shape – and then today was the opposite: right at the bottom end and you are just trying to get the hull to fly. That requires two completely different skill sets and we are happy with the way we are sailing the boat.”
For the third-placed British team this is a solid result which sees them move back up into third place overall after dropping down the leaderboard when they had to pull out in Copenhagen when they hit a rock in training.
“We have got a great team and we have come through quite a lot of adversity over the last couple of seasons one way or another,” Ainslie commented. “We just keep digging and we are getting ourselves up there. We certainly have the capability to win events and to win this thing outright.”
The nine international teams will have a short turnaround time now before the sixth event of Season 3 in Cadiz, Spain in less than a fortnight.