The drivers of SailGP’s nine strong F50 fleet are gearing up to go head to head on the iconic San Francisco Bay when the Mubadala Season 3 Grand Final gets underway on May 6-7.
The fleet will do battle across six fleet races before the top three teams on the Championship leaderboard proceed into the three-boat, winner-takes-all Grand Final, which will decide the Season 3 champions.
With an 11-point lead at the top of the leaderboard, defending champions Australia has already guaranteed its place in the Grand Final. Instead of trying to win fleet racing, the team will focus instead on protecting its F50. This, driver Tom Slingsby explained, is to ensure no damage is caused to the Aussie F50 that might prevent them from taking part in the all-important, three-boat showdown.
“If your boat’s not working for that final, you get kicked out and fourth place takes your spot, so we’ve got to make sure we get through the fleet races with no issues,” he said. “Then the plan is to go out and execute in the final race.”
In second place overall, New Zealand currently has a four-point lead ahead of France in third. This means that if the Kiwis finish fleet racing in fifth or better, they’re guaranteed to make the three-boat Final. The only scenario in which the Kiwis could drop out of the top three would be if Emirates Team Great Britain SailGP Team wins the event, France comes second and New Zealand finish in sixth - at which point the Emirates Team GBR, France and Australia would make up the final three.
Looking ahead to San Francisco, Kiwi driver Peter Burling said he hoped the team could ‘make [their] lives nice and easy’ with a clean fleet racing performance ahead of the Final, adding he was ‘happy’ the team banked crucial practice of the three-boat race format in Christchurch. “It’s great practice every time you get through to the Final,” he said.
Looking ahead to San Francisco, Burling predicted a fierce ‘battle’ between Quentin Delapierre’s France and Ben Ainslie’s Emirates Team GBR for the third spot in the Final.
France currently sits in third place heading into San Francisco but has just a one-point margin ahead of Emirates Team GBR in fourth.
Delapierre said he expected ‘match racing tactics’ from Ainslie but he resolved to ‘stay in [his] mindset’. “I’ll be focusing on our team, making sure we sail fast and make good starts and he will not be able to reach us,” he said.
Emirates Team GBR hasn’t won an event yet this season, despite consistent results, but Ainslie hinted this might change in San Francisco.
“It’s been a while since we won one of these events - we haven’t won an event all season - so if there’s a time to do it, it will be in the Final.”
Elsewhere, Denmark will use Grand Final fleet racing to prepare for the start of Season 4 in June after its shot of making the Grand Final evaporated with a below par performance in Christchurch.
Driver Nicolai Sehested said the ‘disaster’ of Christchurch, which saw the Danes finish in eighth, meant the chance of making the Grand Final was ‘realistically gone’.
“We’re going to use San Fran to prepare for Season 4 - try to get better, try to get more skilled in windy conditions and just get ready to fire hard.”
United States wing trimmer Paul Campbell-James meanwhile said the team’s sixth place standing heading into its home event in San Francisco was ‘a knife in the side’, especially after sitting in second at the same point last season.
“We’ve used this season to develop the crew and we’re well set for next season so we’ll use San Fran to try and make sure we get a win on home soil,” he said.
The Mubadala Season 3 Grand Final | San Francisco will take place on May 6-7.