The Dubai Sail Grand Prix presented by P&O Marinas kicks off today (November 12) with the F50 fleet taking to the tight racecourse of Port Rashid. Ahead of the event, SailGP CEO Russell Coutts reveals his behind-the-scenes insight of the fleet in practice racing.
We’re in Dubai and tickets for our Premium Hospitality and Base Tours have completely sold out and General Access is about to sell out! That’s unusual in this part of the world for a new sports event and speaks volumes about what we’re doing here. We’re pleased there’s been such a response to SailGP.
The first thing to say about this venue is that no-one can believe how close the boats are to the shore. The fans will be closer to the action here than anywhere else on the SailGP calendar. It’s also one of the tightest racecourses we’ve ever had, and that means starting will be even more important, as well as sailing in clear lanes, breaking away from the pack at key moments. There won’t be a lot of opportunities to overtake at the front of the fleet, so I don’t think we’ll see many place changes there. The leaders at the bottom mark gate will be in front and sailing in clear wind while the rest of the fleet will be fighting for the scraps.
The battle for places for those lying between 4th - 9th will be all about reading the fleet patterns and figuring out how to sail in the cleanest lanes possible without increasing the number of tacks and gybes. That will be difficult and I suspect we’ll see some place changes in that section of the fleet.
When it comes to the teams - Spain, Canada and Switzerland have had three extra days of practice this week, which could prove significant. From watching the latest episode of Racing on the Edge, which is a must watch for anyone that hasn’t already seen it, Spain clearly know they need to perform or they risk being dropped. The smooth water and light-to-moderate breeze means Dubai is the perfect venue for them to shine. Hopefully the extra training will pull them up through the fleet - they actually won the practice racing yesterday, including the three boat final, but practice is often different to the real thing.
Switzerland have Nathan Outteridge back on board - but in the role of strategist. The team’s female athlete Laurane Mettraux will move into the second grinder position instead, which I think is pretty punchy. I know they’ve been training her in flight control which, in my opinion, would make more sense, but maybe they feel that Laurane isn’t ready to take on that position in racing yet. Moving Outteridge into strategy does have its advantages as it will mean he’s driving the boat out of maneuvers, which is obviously critical in light winds, especially if it’s marginal foiling conditions. This tight racecourse will result in more boat-on-boat situations, so Outteridge with his eyes out of the boat should also be able to put Switzerland in good positions relative to the other boats.
France meanwhile put in an unbelievably good performance in Cádiz, especially when considering two of their main athletes - Quentin Delapierre and Kevin Peponnet - are relatively new to the F50. That’s an incredible result for them and being third on the overall leaderboard is amazing. Equally interesting is the fact that the British team have not won an event for 18 months now. If someone told me after the Bermuda Sail Grand Prix in May 2021 that they wouldn’t win another event for this long, I wouldn’t have believed it.
Trying to pick a winner is becoming impossible now - the fleet is wide open. Five teams have won events in the last two seasons. The differences between the teams have closed up and it’s coming down to the finer details. All the teams have got used to the windier conditions now, but in Dubai it will be about who can keep themselves in the top three and in front after mark one. When to make that first jibe will be key and will be a huge factor on this racecourse.
We have four more events left after Dubai, so there’s still plenty of points out there. The Championship may be out of the reach of Switzerland and Spain, but everyone else still has a chance of making the top three. Having said that, the next two events will be pivotal for the likes of Great Britain and Canada, while Australia and New Zealand will be difficult to displace if they keep sailing the way they are.
Racing takes place in Dubai between 15:00-16:30 GST on Saturday and Sunday. Full broadcast information and How to Watch details HERE.