Canada Driver Phil Robertson has given a blow by blow account of the team’s performance in Chicago, which saw them finish second on the leaderboard.
The team battled back from a shaky start, which saw their F50 capsize in training, to dominate the first day of racing. Canada won two of the five fleet races and came second twice, easily securing a place in Sunday’s Final.
In identical line-up to Bermuda’s Final, Canada, Australia and Great Britain battled it out in front of Chicago’s skyline stadium. Tom Slingsby’s Australia once again executed the team’s signature three-boat podium race strategy and secured their fifth consecutive win, leaving Canada in second place and Ben Ainslie’s Great Britain in third.
Speaking about the event on his personal blog, Robertson described the venue of Chicago’s Lake Michigan as a ‘picture perfect race track’. “The city centre as a backdrop, shoreline viewing, a tight racecourse, flat (ish) water and 26 km/h of breeze - ideal,” he said.
However, the freshwater of Lake Michigan proved challenging for the fleet. Freshwater, which has a lower density than salt water, increased boat speed by about 5% and meant the takeoff speed needed to foil was around 2 km/h higher.
The effect, Robertson said, was the rudders ‘washing out - losing grip and stalling - quite often’ while the increased takeoff speed meant ‘the boats were harder to fly high’.
“The rough water at the bottom of the course served up a real challenge for the flight controllers,” he said.
Teams were allotted limited training ahead of official racing, with just a day of practice and three practice races with the entire fleet.
“There was little time to train,” Robertson said, “we tipped the boat over during the first day, the warm up was tense and [it was] hard to find a nice rhythm.”
Two starting options were available to teams on the first day of racing - either approach the line from within the harbour or from beyond the breakwater for a ‘slingshot’ run up.
“After two warm up runs, we knew the outside was going to be the best option and all focus went into getting that right,” Robertson said. “What impresses me so much is this team just “steps up” once that start countdown begins and on schedule we eased into it nicely.”
With two wins under their belt, Canada finished the first day in pole position. Day two dawned and the nine F50s were fitted with the largest 29m wing to compensate for the light wind conditions. When it came to racing, Canada stuck to coach Joe Glanfield’s ‘simple’ strategy to ‘attack’.
“Being at the top of the leaderboard can tempt you into defending, but the light airs didn’t really allow for this,” Robertson said. Despite the light conditions, there was a ‘lot of leftover chop’ on the racecourse ‘from the breeze the day before’.
“Lake Michigan often acts like an ocean and this was our roughest day we’d had despite the lack of wind,” Robertson said.
An incredible comeback from the Australian team saw New Zealand lose out on a place in the Final by one point, resulting in an identical Final line-up to Bermuda.
As the Final got underway, Australia performed a flawless race start, leaving Canada and Great Britain trailing from the off. Instead of attacking Australia, Canada played the long game and secured a second place finish.
“We took our learnings from Bermuda and kept patient behind the Aussies,” Robertson said. “It’s a nice confidence booster for the team to perform so strongly in this fleet and gain some huge lessons again from racing in another Final.”
The nine F50s will meet again for the Great Britain Sail Grand Prix | Plymouth, which gets underway on July 30.