The race location of Lake Michigan is set to challenge crews with shifty wind conditions and the new challenge of racing in freshwater as the T-Mobile United States Sail Grand Prix | Chicago at Navy Pier gets underway next week.
Known as the ‘windy city’, Chicago is known for shifty wind conditions blowing off the iconic city skyline, which could prove challenging when SailGP’s nine international teams take to the water.
“In any situation where it’s blowing off the city, it’s going to be tricky for teams to be consistent in shifty, puffy conditions,” said SailGP international commentator David ‘Freddie’ Carr.
Fellow commentator Todd Harris agreed that the ‘capricious’ conditions of the city will be one of the key challenges facing teams.
“Lake Michigan can produce some large waves if the conditions are right,” he said. “It could be hot and humid with a light breeze or it could be ripping with cool temperatures - it will be interesting to see who will be the first to figure that out.”
The lake’s freshwater, which has a lower density than seawater, could see teams adapt how they use the F50’s foils, commentator Stevie Morrison said. Chicago is the only freshwater event of Season 3, making it a ‘unique challenge’ to this racetrack, he added.
Harris agreed, adding the question of ‘how the F50s perform in the freshwater’ will be key.
Carr suggested the change in density could affect takeoff speeds, top end speeds and manoeuvre entry speeds.
“The first thing to remember is that this is one-design racing so it will be the same question for everyone,” he said. “It will be something for the crews to figure out early on in their practice days and it will be interesting to see how that translates into racing.”
The location of Lake Michigan, which is surrounded by physical harbour walls, will provide a ‘self explanatory racecourse’ for fans new to the sport.
Carr, who sailed on the lake as part of the America’s Cup World Series in 2016, said the location feels ‘like you’re sailing in an enclosed urban city space’, providing ‘fantastic viewing’ for fans.
“Normally we have our live line pitch drawn out on the water but in Chicago there will also be hard boundaries which makes it obvious where the sailors can and can’t go,” he said.
It will be an impressive spectacle for shoreside fans, Carr added, describing Chicago a ‘one of the best places in the world to come and watch stadium sailing’.
When it comes to the teams, the pressure will ‘most certainly’ be on Jimmy Spithill’s USA team racing on home waters, Harris said. He pointed to the Season 2 Grand Final in San Francisco, which saw the USA team finish third behind Australia and Japan.
“The Americans were shut out for the top spot on the podium on home waters and they will most certainly want to change that in Chicago.”