The inaugural ITM New Zealand Sail Grand Prix has come to a close after two spectacular days of racing on Whakaraupō, Lyttelton Harbour.
Canada claimed their first-ever SailGP event win, and New Zealand finished second, picking up nine championship points in the last event before the winner-takes-all final in San Francisco.
New Zealand battled with France from start to finish in fleet race four - a fight that ended with Delapierre falling off the foils on the final reach of the course, allowing New Zealand to fly through to a second-place finish behind trans-Tasman rivals Australia.
In race five, Australia took and maintained an early lead, finishing first ahead of the USA and New Zealand. Canada finished fourth, securing the points needed for a spot in the podium race. A neck-and-neck battle ensued in the final, but it was Canada and Kiwi Driver Phil Robertson who claimed victory, finishing just metres ahead of New Zealand - a win Robertson said was, “super, super special.”
Reflecting on the day, New Zealand Driver Peter Burling said: “It felt like we were battling at that front pack all day and we were so close to finishing the job at the end. But Canada sailed a great race and good on them.”
“There’s a lot of passionate Kiwis around and the most popular comment around seems to be, ‘at least it wasn’t the Aussies,’ but for us this is still great for the overall season leaderboard, taking a point from the Aussies and giving ourselves more of a buffer ahead of the French and British,” Burling said.
Around 15,000 were at the event village in Lyttelton across the weekend, with sold out ticketed options and corporate hospitality complemented by a spectator fleet of more than 200 vessels and around 50 support boats. Thousands more watched from a free live site in Christchurch city centre, delivered in partnership with lead host city agency, ChristchurchNZ.
Karl Budge, Head of the New Zealand event said: “Christchurch has put on a great show this weekend. It’s been amazing to see plans coming to life after so long in the making.”
On each day of the event, F50s were led out by traditional waka tangata, powered by Te Hapū o Ngāti Wheke Rāpaki kaihoe (paddlers). The hapū played a key role in welcoming SailGP manuhiri (visitors) to Whakaraupō, Lyttelton Harbour, including staging a pōwhiri for international teams, staff, friends and whānau and blessing the site and all nine F50s ahead of race weekend.
Alison Adams, Chief Executive, ChristchurchNZ said: "We work on bringing a lot of major events to Ōtautahi Christchurch, but I can’t think of one where the authentic commitment to environmental and social good runs deeper than SailGP. It’s a fabulous match for what we’re trying to do as a city.”
Budge agreed: “We’ve been incredibly lucky to have the support of the city, our title partner ITM and this weekend, the fans really did their part too. We’ve felt so welcomed by Lyttelton and Christchurch, and it’s been great to reward them with a great weekend of racing after two years of hard work.”
With the Christchurch event now complete, organisers will soon shift their attention north, to the ITM New Zealand Sail Grand Prix | Auckland, unfolding next March on the iconic waters of the Hauraki Gulf. But for the Kiwis, their first home event in Ōtautahi, Christchurch is one they won’t soon forget.
Burling said: “The support this weekend has been just amazing. Seeing so many people in the grandstand and throughout the corporate hospitality, but not only that - out on the water and across every vantage point around, it seems like Christchurch got behind this event in a way we never thought possible.”
“It’s been absolutely amazing to be down here. We’ve really enjoyed our time and it was an amazing racecourse as well. We loved the challenges it threw at us. It made for plenty of passing lanes and we’re looking forward to coming back,” Burling said.
SailGP returns in just seven weeks for the Season 3 Grand Final - trading the stunning backdrop of Banks Peninsula for the iconic backdrop of San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge.