Emirates Great Britain driver Ben Ainslie debriefs all the racing action from Taranto, which saw the British secure back-to-back event wins with a triumphant fleet racing performance.
Heading into Taranto
We were delighted to get the win in Saint-Tropez - it was a big moment for us, but heading into Taranto a lot of the team had been involved in the America’s Cup event in Villanova where we had an absolute nightmare and finished last. It was probably the first time in my career that, within a matter of five days, I’d gone from feeling great to having a real kick. That meant we had to spin things around and get back on track and I was delighted that the team put that disappointment behind them and just focused on SailGP.
Race Day 1
The forecast for day one was windier than we’ve had all season and we were excited to sail in breeze. We had about an hour before the start of the race where we were warming up.
We had some pretty big gusts, which meant the main foil and rudders were cavitating and the boat started shaking - the boat was close to its limit. So after a couple of warm up laps, we pretty much stopped the boat and sat it out, because we were confident in what we were doing and happy to go into boat preservation mode while we waited for the start.
We didn’t have a great start in the first fleet race but we weren’t panicking - the breeze was up and we knew we had a good team and could maneuver the boat well. We actually had a bit of foresight and jibed quite early out of Mark 1. That meant we jumped about three or four boats in just one maneuver and put us up to 3rd by the leeward gate, so that was a critical moment for us. We did a great job of grinding down the French, so it was just the Aussies out in front - but they were sailing nicely and unless they made a big error, we weren’t going to pass them. In the second race, we were 4th at Mark 1 and again managed to use good speed and handling to come through in 2nd.
The third race was an interesting one because the Aussies were over the line early and had to go to the back of the fleet, which was difficult for them to do in that wind speed. We didn’t have a great start either, but we were mid-fleet and picked off a couple of boats to get a 3rd. It was a day where you were trying to keep things simple and not doing any outlandish maneuvers to get ahead. You just need to look at what happened to Hans [Henken, U.S. flight controller]. It didn’t didn’t look like a particularly spectacular crash, but it just shows the ramifications of being in the wrong place at the wrong time and the power of the water.
Race Day 2
We went from the windy conditions of day one to light breeze on day two, which was tricky. There was a nice breeze when we went out training but it just kept backing off, and we quickly went down from six crew to four. That adds a whole new dimension in how we sail these boats - Hannah [Mills, strategist] ends up at the front of the boat grinding, I end up flying the boat for most of the time and Goobs [Iain Jensen] and Parko [Luke Parkinson] are trying to trim and grind and support Hannah and me - so it really becomes a huge team effort.
There’s a lot of multitasking that goes on, and then the breeze just kept getting lighter, so it was about getting our heads out of the boat and keeping the boat moving fast in the best wind on the course. We sailed the boat nicely and made some good strategic and tactical decisions.
It was pretty tight going into Sunday - with us and the Australians tied on points - but the big moment was the start of race four when 5 boats were over the line early. We got through the fleet and did a good job of sailing the boat and it felt comfortable from then on in.
Going into the Final, it felt like the wind wasn’t great, but there was just enough to get around the course - so it was a bit surprising that it completely shut down.
It was just one of those difficult scenarios where you don’t have any options - you’re just going with whatever zephyr of wind comes your way because you don’t have any steerage - it was a real shame the event finished on that note.
After the race was terminated, we weren’t sure who had won. We knew that there was a number of legs that needed to be sailed for the race to count, but we didn’t know how many, so when the message came through that we’d won, it was a really nice surprise. It would have been much nicer to have done the Final, but it didn’t feel like a lucky win - it was consistent sailing that got us there.
The F50 fleet will next meet at the Spain Sail Grand Prix | Andalucía-Cádiz on October 14-15.