Australia driver Tom Slingsby has dissected the team’s last minute scramble to cross the finish line ahead of the Kiwis to claim the Season 3 Championship title and historic SailGP three-peat.
Two-time defending and reigning champions Australia executed a dominating start and led San Francisco’s three-boat, winner-takes-all Grand Final from the off. But an error on the penultimate leg of the race saw the Aussies fall off the foils in dramatic fashion, opening the door to the Kiwis who were breathing down their necks.
Speaking at a post-event press conference, Slingsby revealed what was going through his mind at the time.
“I was just thinking, I can’t believe you’re going to lose it here and choke like this in front of all these people and everyone watching around the world - that actually went through my head.”
He revealed that, despite having ‘such a comfortable lead’, he decided to ‘shut the race down’ and undertake extra maneuvers to feed the Kiwis dirty air.
“In the end, they didn’t get different wind, but they were tacking in better positions and able to foil out of the tacks better than us - we were tacking in less wind and they just kept gaining and gaining,” he said.
With just meters to go, it looked as if Peter Burling’s team might pip the Aussies to the finish line and Season 3 Championship trophy. But the Kiwis ran out of road and Australia crossed the line to claim three consecutive Championship titles in a row.
“We did the tack in just enough room and managed to make the finish,” Slingsby said.
Looking back on the race, Slingsby admitted that he ‘didn’t react well enough’ to the changing conditions.
“The current was picking up and the wind really died off,” he said. “It was a really solid, steady breeze all race and then on the last upwind, it just started flaking out and became more patchy - I guess I didn’t react to that as well as I could have.”
He added that, looking back, he ‘would have sailed that last leg very differently’.
Despite sealing the SailGP Championship three-peat, Slingsby denied that he could now claim the title as the best sailor in the world, pointing to the talent of his team instead.
“Anything I’ve done in the last 10 years I’ve had this team behind me, so if I’m ever called the best, it’s the same for everyone behind me - I’m barely anything without these people.”
He added that no future achievement could eclipse the career of Emirates GBR driver Ben Ainslie.
“He’ll always be an idol to me,” he said. “Even though I’ve got a couple of wins on him lately, for me he’s always going to be the GOAT.”
The F50 fleet will next do battle when Season 4 gets underway with the Rolex United States Sail Grand Prix | Chicago at Navy Pier in June.