The crazy conditions of Saint-Tropez challenged crews to adapt their racing strategies overnight, SailGP’s international commentators have said, highlighting the teams capable of performing in all conditions.
The nine teams struggled to keep their F50s under control on the first day of racing, as gusts of up to 45 km/h swept the racecourse. All nine teams exceeded speeds of 90 km/h, while France set a new racing speed record on home waters of 99.94 km/h. But on Sunday, it was a different story, with a light, shifty breeze reaching a maximum speed of 16 km/h, making it almost impossible for teams to foil.
Broadcast commentator Todd Harris said the extreme conditions made the event ‘so memorable’, describing Saturday as ‘all about holding onto your hats’ and Sunday as ‘a chess match’.
Emily Nagel agreed, adding that Saturday showcased ‘the most full-on racing we’ve ever seen in SailGP’ with ‘big winds, big speeds, big crashes and really impressive sailing all round’.
“One of my biggest takeaways was the teams’ adaptability to the different conditions,” she added, “it was impressive of the Americans to adapt so quickly and just change their mindset on the second day.”
Harris agreed, highlighting the fact that the Americans’ first ever event win was secured ‘in both high wins and in low winds’.
The Americans picked up a 3-2-3-1 fleet racing record, securing a place in the winner-takes-all Final against Great Britain and New Zealand despite being docked eight event points and two season points for a collision with France in the abandoned fifth fleet race.
Nagel said the event win was a vindication for the team, which has struggled at the start of the season with 5-8-7-5 event place finishes ahead of Saint-Tropez.
“This season they’ve had a bit of a slow start with a shake-up of some positions on board and they’ve clearly been working on communication, the roles on board and how they run the boat,” she said.
Harris agreed, pointing to the 2013 America’s Cup, in which Jimmy Spithill’s Oracle Team USA came from 8-1 behind to win 8-9. “Jimmy Spithill is the comeback king,” he added.
While the U.S. was ‘not the frontrunner’ on Saturday, which saw two races won by Peter Burling’s New Zealand and one by Australia, the team stayed ‘consistent’, Nagel said.
Fellow commentator Stevie Morrison agreed, pointing to the Kiwis as the best performing team in fleet racing. But an early penalty handed to New Zealand for crossing the start line of the Final early handed an immediate advantage to the Americans and the British, and sent the Kiwis to the back of the pack.
At mark one, both the U.S. and Great Britain prepared to undertake a crucial foiling jibe. The Americans executed the manoeuvre perfectly but the British fell off the foils and lost speed, handing the lead to the Americans.
“It was all down to that foiling jibe by the Americans and that early mistake by the Kiwis, “ Morrison said. “Hats off to the Americans, they really deserved to win.”
Australia vs New Zealand
Elsewhere, the commentators dissected a key racing moment in the first fleet race, which saw aggressive match racing tactics by New Zealand result in the Aussies dramatically nosediving into the water meters from the finish line. The floundering Australian F50 was promptly overtaken by Great Britain, the U.S., and Spain, leaving Australia to finish fifth, instead of second.
Australian driver Tom Slingsby criticised the move by Kiwi driver Peter Burling, claiming he would allowed New Zealand to cross the line first, but Nagel, Harris and Morrison disputed this.
“Tom was going hard to overtake him,” Morrison said. “He said he would have given him the place but I don’t believe that for a second. If he was worried about it, he should have handled it better.”
Nagel agreed that Burling was ‘clearly in the right’ but said she ‘understood both sides’. “It was a bit on the aggressive side but Burling wanted to win,” she said. “Slingsby’s reaction was colorful but I can understand - you’re travelling at almost 100 km/h and there’s no seatbelts on these boats.”
The growing rivalry between the Aussies and the Kiwis will be one to watch, according to Morrison who questioned whether “Burling has got under Slingsby’s skin”. Slingsby retaliated in the fifth fleet race by ‘parking’ the Aussie boat in front of New Zealand, Morrison said, preventing the Kiwis from crossing the line.
“Where’s Tom’s head at? Does he just want to beat the Kiwis?” Morrison asked.
He added that it ‘shouldn’t go unnoticed’ that the Saint-Tropez was the second consecutive event without Australia in the Final, and the third event in a row without an Australian victory.
It was a rocky event for Switzerland, which started the event with -4 points following contact with the U.S. boat in practice racing, resulting in the loss of two overall season points.
Even with former Japan driver Nathan Outteridge behind the wheel, the team struggled in the extreme conditions, picking up a 7-8-5-4 fleet racing record. Harris said the team often has ‘flashes of brilliance’ but is clearly ‘still learning’, especially in challenging conditions.
“Sometimes they look like Japan 2.0,” he said, “but then they have a bad manoeuvre and they go from the top three to the bottom three.”
Nagel agreed that the ‘racing performance has improved’, but argued the team was ‘getting into too many boat on boat situations’ across the weekend.
“They were picking up penalties for not giving enough space at marks and just getting closer than needed on a day when you wanted a lot of space between boats - it was a bit unnecessary,” she said.
The racing action resumes in just over a week with the Spain Sail Grand Prix | Andalucía - Cádiz presented by NEAR taking place on 24-25 September.