New Zealand driver Peter Burling recounts how the team snared its first event victory of the new season in Chicago, propelling the Kiwis to the top of the Championship leaderboard for the first time.
Heading into Chicago, we were still feeling a bit gutted about the Grand Final result in San Francisco. When you look back at it, you can see we were so close to leading at mark one and then again making the pass right at the end. Falling short by such a fine margin is probably harder to take than being a fair bit off - but we were really proud of our progression forward from our first season in the team.
Between the two events of San Francisco and Chicago, we took the time to debrief and figure out the next steps to become the dominant team of the league. With the tight turnaround in SailGP, it’s exciting to have that new challenge and be back trying to evolve.
No practice racing
The cancellation of practice racing in Chicago meant we had to jump straight into the deep end - but that’s something you’ve got to get used to in SailGP.
We spent the day doing our standard preparation to go sailing before it got called off, and then making sure we did some exercise to get over the jet lag. We went over our notes and tried to maximize the time to be fully prepared and ready to go racing the next day.
Race Day 1
Race Day 1 was a bit of an up and down day for us. We took the inside starting route, which is something we might not have done traditionally, but we wanted to create some different options and got three solid results on the board. The first race felt like we were still finding our feet a little bit.
We probably should have won the second race, but just as we reached the zone at the bottom mark, the French obtained the overlap and so we finished in second. We had a solid race in the last fleet race of the day to get another second on the board. In that third race, the Aussies led to mark one and we couldn’t quite make the pass, so we sat on their heels for the whole race. It was a pretty solid first day - we weren’t leading at the end of the day, but we were right in the hunt.
Race Day 2
We went from a nice steady breeze on the first day to absolutely nothing the next. I was surprised we were underway in the first race considering how light it was - just 3 or 4 km/h. It was the first day I’ve sailed an F50 without flying a hull. We spent the day focused on boat speed and tactics.
It was quite new for everyone - sailing in breeze that light, but we as a team have put a lot of effort into racing in light conditions. We have a lot of events where we end up with a race in light air, so you have to put the effort in. I think our performance showed that we’re quite comfortable in those conditions now. In the first race we decided to start at the leeward end, got to the first mark mid pack and finished third overall. And then in the next race, we did a pretty similar thing, with a better start. At that stage we knew all we needed to do was not come last and we were in the Final.
We put a big emphasis on the start. If you look at stats of Finals, it’s pretty rare that a team passes after mark one, so we really wanted to win the start and then just sail around the course clean. When we got to mark one, we felt it was going to be a pretty easy race but we ended up with a split on second and third, and then anything could have happened out there. That was tough because we felt like we were in a good position before that, but I think we did the right thing holding to our strategy. Although we lost a fair bit of distance on the other two teams, we still managed to beat them around that final mark and take the first event win of the season.
Looking ahead to L.A.
Heading into L.A, we’re leading the overall season leaderboard for the first time, and we’re happy to have ticked off that milestone. Personally, I’ve sailed in L.A. - I’ve spent a lot of time there in transit from New Zealand on the way to Europe and hanging out with friends, but it’s going to be incredible to race the F50s there. It’s an iconic city, with a good vibe and great weather, and we’re looking forward to keeping things fresh and using it as an opportunity to improve.