Achieving consistent race starts is a key target of Jimmy Spithill’s US SailGP Team as they prepare to race on home waters next weekend in Chicago, according to flight controller Hans Henken.
Speaking to SailGP, Henken described the start as ‘the most dynamic part of the race’.
“It’s the part of the race that no-one is really bound to any set play - the rest of the racecourse is quite mechanical in lots of ways.”
Henken, who will return to the role of flight controller after his debut at the Bermuda Sail Grand Prix presented by Hamilton Princess last month, likened a SailGP fleet race to ‘a chess game’, which ‘all plays out and finishes based on how well you’re able to make the first move’.
In his role, this means understanding ‘when the boat needs to be foiling, how soon to get foiling and keeping at the right height throughout the start’. “To be really in sync in the final minute of the pre-start and to be in the perfect spot in one of the perfect positions at mark one - that’s the holy grail that all SailGP teams are looking for,” he said.
Consistency across the board is key for the US team, which are looking to build on their [fifth place finish in Bermuda last month]. The packed Season 3 schedule includes more races than ever, making consistency across the whole season key for those aiming to make the podium of the Grand Final in 2023.
For Henken personally this means becoming ‘more consistent at flying the boat at a higher ride height’ in Chicago.
“It’s no secret that the best teams out there - Australia and Great Britain - fly the boats higher and more consistently than the other teams,” he said. “The higher you fly the boat, the faster the boat goes.”
Henken will be concentrating on reaching the right ride height on the straight downwind and reaches and ensuring manoeuvres are as smooth as possible. He previously revealed he stayed up late in Bermuda to study the performances of Australia flight controller Jason Waterhouse and Great Britain’s Luke Parkinson.
“They’re doing it incredibly well and it’s a matter of copying the best in the world, getting really good and then starting to push hard on the advancement,” he said.
Meanwhile Henken shrugged off the suggestion that the US team will be feeling more pressure to perform at next weekend’s race in Chicago, arguing instead that the support of a home crowd will boost the team’s confidence.
“I see being in Chicago as being more comfortable because you’re in a place that you know really well. It’s not as if we’re half way around the world in Dubai having never been there before,” he said.
While racing in front of the home crowd might result in ‘more pressure in the moment’, being familiar with the city and knowing ‘where the best food is and where you’re sleeping’ are factors that ‘all play a part in performance’.
“If you’re feeling really comfortable with where you’re at, that definitely leads to more confidence,” he added. “In any sport that you do, the more confidence you have, the more you can perform at your highest level.”