It is now or never for mid-fleet teams to make their mark on the Season 3 overall leaderboard as the Singapore Sail Grand Prix gets underway this weekend, SailGP experts have said.
The league’s first ever visit to Asia marks the eighth event of Season 3 and offers the last opportunity for some mid-fleet teams to stay in the game.
The event, which will see racing take place on January 14 & 15, will pose ‘a real opportunity’ for Phil Robertson’s Canada, according to broadcast commentator Stevie Morrison. With 40 points, Canada currently sits in sixth behind Denmark.
Morrison pointed to the newcomer team’s commanding performances in Bermuda and Chicago earlier this season, which resulted in two consecutive podium finishes. It will be crucial for Canada to take advantage of Singapore’s stable conditions, which will be similar to those of Chicago and Bermuda.
“They came out of the blocks firing in Chicago and Bermuda and Phil accredited that - of course to the crew - but also to the conditions,” Morrison said. “It doesn’t mean it’s easier in those conditions, but it’s easier to find a groove.”
Emily Nagel agreed that Canada ‘definitely have the ability’ but ‘need to not get themselves into situations’ while Todd Harris described Canada as ‘the Jekyll and Hyde team’. “Which one will show up?” he asked.
Elsewhere, Harris said it was a ‘prime opportunity’ for Jimmy Spithill’s United States team, which returns to the Season 3 racetrack with Rome Kirby in flight control. Kirby, who has always remained on the team’s roster, has been absent since the end of last season, with newcomer Hans Henken stepping into the position instead. With 39 points, the team currently sits in seventh place.
“If the Americans are going to do anything, they need to make a move in Singapore,” Harris said.
After Singapore, teams will be heading ‘into the teeth of the beast’ for the Australia and New Zealand Sail Grand Prix events, Harris said, arguing those events are sure to see confident performances from Season 3 leaders Australia and New Zealand as they reach home waters. Australia currently has a nine-point lead over New Zealand with 60 points, while the Kiwis sit in second with 51.
“Those top teams probably feel they’ve got a comfortable lead,” Harris added, “Tom [Slingsby, Australia driver] and Pete [Burling, New Zealand driver] are heading closer to home and probably just want to get through these events unscathed.”
Morrison agreed that ‘Australia and New Zealand will probably be happy with a fourth or fifth place finish, making it a perfect moment ’for the other teams to put their foot down’.
However, Nagel disagreed that the Aussies and Kiwis will be comfortable going into Singapore.
“With these teams, the pressure is never off,” she said, “a fourth or fifth place finish might be all they need but there’s plenty of incentives for the sailors to do their very best”.
Denmark is another team under pressure to perform in Singapore to have a chance of making it into the winner-takes-all Grand Final in San Francisco.
Nicolai Sehested’s team, which is currently in fifth place, has been ‘consistent throughout’ the season so far, Nagel said, ‘but flying beneath the radar’. “That’s done them well on the overall leaderboard - a couple of good events and they could cause a real upset,” she said.
However, Harris argued the team actually ‘lacked consistency’, despite having a ‘slow burn’ throughout the season.
“They have the talent and skill to be in the top three but it’s about the ability to adapt to your surroundings,” he said. “You’ve got to be able to stay consistent and take whatever Mother Nature throws at you.”
Game over for Spain and Switzerland?
All three commentators agreed that the season is effectively over for Spain and Switzerland, which sit at the bottom of the leaderboard with 22 and 16 points respectively.
While the season title may be out of reach, ‘pride and ego are still on the line’, Morrison said.
Switzerland is a ‘young team’ with ‘room to expand and grow’, Morrison said, but questions could be asked about Spain and driver Jordi Xammar if an improved performance does not come soon.
“Questions are going to start to be asked,” he said. “The pressure is going to be ratcheting up on him.”
Nagel agreed that ‘any big changes in the overall leaderboard’ are unlikely, even ‘if the Spanish or Swiss win an event’. However, she said she expected to see ‘better sailing from the Spanish in particular’.
“It’s noticeable that they’re doing the most hard work in between events, so hopefully that will pay off - but with where we are in the season it’s not going to change things drastically,” she said.
She agreed that Xammar’s position as driver could come under fire.
“It’s just one of those things in the sport industry, if you don’t perform - especially as a driver - you’re first in line to get cut, even if it’s not your fault,” she said. “At the end of the day, it’s sport and it’s not personal.”