Slingsby’s Australian battlers pull off smash and grab victory in Dubai
The Dubai event's edge-of-the-seat final three-way shootout between Great Britain, France and Australia went down to the wire
Tom Slingsby’s Australian SailGP crew staged an incredible comeback on the second day of the SailGP Dubai regatta after scraping their way into a close-fought three-way final against France and Great Britain and snatching victory on the very last manoeuvre of the race.
It was a win that nobody – except perhaps for the Aussies themselves – believed was possible after Slingsby & Co. uncharacteristically finished Saturday’s three race day in eighth place in the nine-boat F50 fleet.
After an opening day of often painfully light breezes in Dubai the wind kicked in for day two with the three remaining fleet races and the event grand final taking place in around 11 knots of breeze and super flat water.
There were few clues to any sort of turnaround in Australian fortunes in the opening race of the day when they appeared grateful to have managed to claw their way up to fifth. Even when they turned in a more familiar wire-to-wire victory in the second race of the day the chances of them making the final still seemed remote.
However when their antipodean close rivals New Zealand incurred four penalty points for contact in a start line incident in race five that opened the door to the final a little wider and well-deserved third place in the sixth heat was enough to see the Australians in the final.
Joining them were Ben Ainslie’s British squad who had dominated the qualification series to secure their spot with a race to spare, and Quentin Delapierre’s France who were jubilant after fighting their way into their second final in as many events.
The final was compelling watching right from the start. Ainslie outsmarted Slingsby by diving to leeward of the Australian in the final 10 seconds to the gun forcing him to jump the gun. That looked to have handed the lead to the British crew but the French meanwhile had wound their boat up to max speed and comfortably powered over the top.
The French were calm and composed on the first downwind leg and after rounding the first leeward gate well ahead began to stretch away from their rivals who were locked in a fierce battle.
The French were 250 metres ahead when the Brits and Aussies rounded the first windward gate bow to bow and a second consecutive event victory for Delapierre’s crew was beginning to look very much on the cards.
The second beat did not go as well for the leaders however.
When the French tacked off the right hand boundary at the 500 metre line they were unable to lay the left hand windward gate mark.
The Australians managed to make more progress along the right hand boundary and when they tacked on to starboard were able to force the French, on port now, to take their stern. Simultaneous to that manoeuvre though the British came storming through to leeward of both their rivals to round the windward mark ahead.
With the French off the foils after the turn the race looked to have come down to a straight shoot out between Slingsby and Ainslie with both crews matching each other gybe for gybe on the final downwind leg.
The British were very much in control and looked certain to seal their first event victory in 18 months – before a daggerboard delayed them from making the final gybe.
Surely not believing his luck at this stage in the race Slingsby carved the Australian boat through the turn and scorched off to take the win, leaving the dejected British – still dead in the water – to also be overtaken by the French.
With New Zealand missing out on a place in the Dubai final and having to settle for fourth overall, the grateful Australians have extended their lead at the top of the overall leaderboard to nine points from the Kiwis, with France one point back in third and the British a further two points adrift in fourth.
There will be plenty for all the teams to contemplate over the next couple of months before SailGP Season 3 returns in January next year in Singapore, before the final three events in Sydney, Australia, Christchurch, New Zealand, and the grand final in San Francisco, USA.