SailGP presenter Lisa Darmanin looks back on all the thrills, spills and edge-of-your-seat racing action from Season 3, reflecting on the highlights of Christchurch, France’s transformational progress and why Denmark is the team to watch in Season 4.
When you look back on Season 3 and compare the racing we had in New Zealand and San Francisco to the season opener in Bermuda, it’s immediately clear that the level is now much higher. The racing is tighter, the leaders aren’t leading by much and we don’t know who is making those finals until the last moment. The mid-pack is also extremely tight. As a racing fan, it’s much more exciting to watch and, as a sailing fan, it’s getting even more technical and tactical.
The other thing we’ve learned is that it’s not easy for teams to come in, pick it up and do well. You’ve got some of the best in the business in SailGP - look at the United States. The Americans were in the Grand Final last season and in Season 3 they finished seventh overall. [United States driver] Jimmy Spithill is one of the best sailors in the world, so it just goes to show that the entire fleet is leveling up all the time.
A real highlight for me was the first day of the Range Rover France Sail Grand Prix in Saint Tropez. The wind was pushing the sailing to the limit and the water was literally boiling around the foils. Everyone made it around the racetrack, but there were so many close calls. Everyone was in full survival mode and it just showed the peak of racing. For me, that first day in Saint Tropez was SailGP in a nutshell. Another highlight was the fans in Christchurch - the grandstand was packed and you could feel the passion behind the sailing and the support for the Kiwi team on home turf. Christchurch also had perfect conditions and a beautiful backdrop and gets my vote as the best event of the season.
My team of the season was France. They really set the standard as a new team with a new driver - Quentin Delapierre - and a new wing trimmer - Kevin Peponnet. Kevin and Quentin came from Olympic sailing to racing an F50 against the three big dogs in sailing - Tom [Slingsby], Pete [Burling] and Ben [Ainslie]. Knowing you’re going up against those resumes and fighting for a podium finish is super impressive and just sets the bar for any new team coming in.
On the other end of the spectrum, the Americans have been a real shock for me this season. It doesn’t make sense why they’re not performing. They’ve got good elements - a legend of a driver, and they did so well in Saint Tropez and Cadiz, which were the hardest events for flight control. It’s odd that they’re not linking it all together and it’s disappointing when we have four American events next season. To have a really high performing American team being supported by passionate American fans would be pretty amazing. I don’t think Jimmy is going anywhere, but he’s got a big job ahead of him. What do you change when you don’t know what’s wrong? Something’s got to change because something isn’t working. But Jimmy is a good leader - he’s calm on the boat and he’s got the talent, he just needs to create a better structure around him.
When I look at the Aussies in Season 4, they’ve definitely got the motivation to go and win another Championship. I don’t think they’ll rest on their laurels. They want to keep proving that they’re the best team out there and they’re still super dangerous. Having said that, as soon as there was a target on their back in Season 3, they struggled a little bit, and that target is getting bigger and bigger.
I certainly think there’s a risk of other teams stealing strong members of the Aussie team, but the nationality rule means that it would only be a short term role if you’re poached. The team I’ll be watching next season is Denmark. If they had performed better in Christchurch, we could have seen them fighting for a place in the Grand Final. They’ve been very patient in their development, they’re well funded and they’re a tight knit team. I’m interested to see what they bring to next season.