Pressure will be ramping up on the four teams gunning for a place in the three-boat, winner-takes-all Grand Final when racing gets underway in Christchurch next weekend, SailGP’s commentators have said.
Tom Slingsby’s Australia has a clear 12-point lead and looks set to secure a coveted place in the Grand Final. But there are just three points separating home favorites New Zealand in second, Quentin Delapierre’s France in third and Ben Ainslie’s Emirates Great Britain SailGP Team in fourth. All three teams will be ‘going all out’ when racing gets underway on Whakaraupō, Lyttelton Harbour, commentator Todd Harris said.
Fellow commentator Stevie Morrison agreed that the stakes couldn’t be higher, as Season 3 ‘comes down to the wire’.
Teams will have to ‘bang on the start line’, he said, which comes with ‘the risk of being over early’.
“If you’re a few meters back from the start line, then you’ll be back in the pack at Mark 1 - all the teams are going to need to push hard in New Zealand.”
Harris meanwhile said he’ll be keeping an eye on Emirates GBR and ‘whether they play it aggressive or safe in the first few races of Christchurch’.
“I don’t think Ben Ainslie is the kind of guy to play it safe - I think they’ll take their fate into their own hands.”
He added that it’s ‘amazing’ the team ‘are so close to the top three’ despite ‘not having won an event’ and suffering ‘so many missteps’ throughout the season.
“Imagine if Emirates GBR’s first event win of the season comes in Christchurch or even in the Grand Final,” he said.
Commentator Emily Nagel meanwhile said there would be ‘more pressure’ on home favorites New Zealand following a disappointing event in Sydney last month. The team suffered technical difficulties in the first fleet race and picked up a 9-3-4 racing record, finishing sixth overall. This meant the Kiwis lost their crucial points buffer and significantly reduced their lead on the French to just one point.
As a result, Nagel said she expects to see the home team ‘keep out of trouble’. “They don’t need to have the most amazing event to get through,” she said, “they just need to sail clean and stay ahead of the British and the French.”
Morrison agreed that the Kiwis will be ‘under pressure’ and agreed they ‘don't need to be as good as Emirates GBR’ across the next two events.
Nicolai Sehested’s Denmark, currently fifth on the overall Championship leaderboard four points behind Emirates GBR, still has ‘an outside chance’ of making San Francisco’s Grand Final, Morrison said, but will need to ‘push the boat out’ in Christchurch.
“They keep going on about the process, but I’d throw that out the window right now and go for it for a chance to make the Grand Final,” he added.
SailGP’s fleet of identical flying F50s will go head to head on the waters of Whakaraupō, Lyttelton Harbour on March 18 & 19.