Plymouth, UK (July 17, 2021) – The opening day for Great Britain Sail Grand Prix delivered better than expected winds for the eight teams to begin the third event of 2021-22 SailGP schedule.
Tom Slingsby’s Australia SailGP Team opened in style winning the first two fleet races, before Jimmy Spithill’s U.S. team claimed victory in race three, to place them at the top of the leaderboard, just ahead of Billy Besson’s French team who were the most consistent team of the day with three third places.
But as the temperature soared on-land, Phil Robertson turned up the heat on the racecourse by eliciting the first SailGP black flag of the championship, ultimately disqualifying the Spain SaiIGP team from the final race.
Although lighter winds were in the forecast, the decision was made before racing to utilize the traditional five crew onboard set-up. The Aussies, who struggled with the three-up configuration in similar wind conditions in Italy, made the most of the conditions to impress on Plymouth Sound with on-water gusts reaching nearly 11 knots
Australia’s early dominance began right from the start of the event, winning the first race of the day by a clear margin and repeating the feat in the second race of the day, finishing 37 seconds ahead of Nicolai Sehested’s Denmark SailGP Team who scored their best result of the championship so far.
“We’ve started well but there’s a long way to go,” admitted Slingsby. “We are sailing well, getting good starts, sailing with confidence, and showing if we get out in front we are hard to pull back. It’s no secret that light air is our biggest weakness – and it’s my weakness – but we’ve been working on it. The last event in Taranto was a bit embarrassing for our team, and I felt bad for not doing the team justice. So we’ve worked on our light air and it’s working so far.”
Slingsby and his team appeared to take a breather in Race 3 – finishing seventh – and the race became a much tighter affair.
SailGP’s first ever black flag – meaning an instant disqualification – was given to Spain due to a risky starting maneuver causing high risk of collision or capsize to the U.S. team, but Spithill took it in his stride to guide his team to victory.
“Our start tactics were to come in fast and find a gap,” said Spain SailGP Team driver Phil Robertson. “From my side, I felt we nailed the timing on the start and then we heard that we had an infringement. It was close but we didn’t infringe. Perhaps it was marginal but I don’t think it should have been a disqualification. We didn’t do anything wrong.”
Reactions to the repeat offense by Robertson and the Spanish team were strong. Sentiments from the likes of Spithill and Slingsby showed favor to the umpire’s decision.
“How many times do we have to see it?” noted Spithill. “We are well past three strikes and you are out so I am not surprised to see a black flag. He was either going to go into the mark and hurt someone on his boat, or come into my boat and hurt someone on mine. I am not sure the penalty is harsh enough.
“When MotoGP or F1 have a similar situation they start fining or penalizing the driver, so perhaps this needs to be considered. There is a fine line between pushing and risking hurting people. For any other team perhaps it might be a harsh call, but because it’s not the first time, it was absolutely the right call.”
Slingsby supported the severe penalty. “The penalty in my mind should have been harsher as he keeps doing it. He is relying on the other boat to react and if Jimmy hadn’t reacted there would have been a huge crash and someone could have been injured.”
Adding to the drama of the day, local fans in Plymouth were met with a disappointing opening day for their home team, who ended the opening day of the Great Britain Sail Grand Prix in last place on the leaderboard.
While managing to secure a second place finish in the final race of the day, interim driver Paul Goodison’s British team totaled just eight points across three races, after incurring a contact penalty in Race 2.
“It was a frustrating day for us,” noted Goodison. “The starts were so crucial and we just didn’t get that right in the first two races but finally in the third we managed it. We will just have to go out tomorrow and do our best in the first two races to finish as high up the leaderboard as we can.”
The United States ended the day topping the event leaderboard with France and Australia tied for points sitting in second and third position respectively, while Italy Sail Grand Prix winners Japan disappointed to finish seventh – just a single point above the Brits. Denmark, New Zealand, and Spain complete the table in fourth, fifth and sixth respectively at the end of the day.
The Great Britain Sail Grand Prix will continue tomorrow with two final fleet races followed by a podium race, with the top three boats in the ultimate showdown to decide the winner.
Leaderboard after 3 races
1. United States, 19 pts
2. France, 18 pts
3. Australia, 18 pts
4. Denmark, 12 pts
5. New Zealand, 11 pts
6. Spain, 10 pts
7. Japan, 9 pts
8. Great Britain, 8 pts
SailGP Season Championship (after 2 events)
1. Spain, 16 points
2. Great Britain, 15
3. Japan, 14
4. New Zealand, 13
5. France, 12
6. Australia, 12
7. United States, 11
8. Denmark, 11
Format for SailGP events:
• Teams compete in identical F50 catamarans.
• Each event runs across two days.
• There are three races on each day, totaling six races at each event.
• The opening five fleet races involve every team.
• The final match race pits the three highest ranking teams against each other to be crowned event champion.
• The season ends with the Grand Final, which includes the Championship Final Race – a winner-takes-all match race for the $1m prize.
SailGP Season 2 Schedule*
April 24-25, 2021 – Bermuda Grand Prix
June 5-6, 2021 – Italy Grand Prix – Taranto
July 17-18, 2021 – Great Britain Grand Prix – Plymouth
August 20-21, 2021 – ROCKWOOL Denmark Grand Prix – Aarhus
September 11-12, 2021 – France Grand Prix – Saint-Tropez
October 9-10, 2021 – Spain Grand Prix – Andalusia
December 17-18, 2021 – Australia Grand Prix – Sydney
January 29-30, 2022 – New Zealand Grand Prix – Christchurch
March 26-27, 2022 – United States Grand Prix – San Francisco (Season 2 Grand Final)
*Subject to change
2021-22 Teams, Helm
Australia, Tom Slingsby
Denmark, Nicolai Sehested
France, Billy Besson
Great Britain, Ben Ainslie (alternate – Paul Goodison)
Japan, Nathan Outteridge
New Zealand, Peter Burling (alternate – Arnaud Psarofaghis)
Spain, Jordi Xammar (alternate – Phil Robertson)
United States, Jimmy Spithill
Established in 2018, SailGP seeks to be an annual, global sports league featuring fan-centric inshore racing in some of the iconic harbors around the globe. Rival national teams compete in identical F50 catamarans with the season culminating with a $1 million winner-takes-all match race.