New Zealand is sixth on the event leaderboard after a challenging first day of the Spain Sail Grand Prix in Cádiz. The Kiwis finished fourth, fifth and eighth in the first three fleet races of the weekend, picking up 16 event points.

Australia leads the fleet heading into day two (25 points), with Rockwool Denmark close behind with 24 points. Hometown favourites Spain sit third with 23 points.

It was not the debut New Zealand was hoping for after the team’s five-week, forced hiatus from racing, said driver Peter Burling.

Spain Sail Grand Prix | Andalucia - Cadiz | Season 4 | New Zealand | Racing

“We definitely had a pretty tough day where we never quite found our groove fully,” Burling said.

“We were right in the pack for most of the day, and found it really hard to find good lanes. There were a few things thrown at us too - including not having our starting screen working in race one, and not being fully prepared for five-up sailing either - which is our bad. It’s our first day racing in a while, so we can go away, tidy that up and come out swinging tomorrow.”

Race one marked a stunning hometown debut for los Gallos - the Spain SailGP Team - who came out firing to finish a clear 19-seconds ahead of the rest of the fleet. The first fleet race of the day was also bookended by drama, starting with a ‘black flag’ penalty for the Swiss for barging in at the start, and finishing with near-contact at the final mark between Canada, France and Great Britain who finished seventh, eighth and ninth respectively after France copped a penalty for not keeping clear.

In fleet race two, crews dropped down to five onboard with New Zealand strategist Liv Mackay stepping into the role of grinder to make the most of light air. In a complete turnaround from race one, France surged ahead of the chaos to finish first while New Zealand battled in the pack to an eventual fifth-place finish.

In the third and final fleet race of the day, New Zealand found themselves in the back of the pack from the outset, making some gains throughout but finishing eighth overall. Australia sailed away with the win, with Denmark in second and Spain in third.

Reflecting on the day, Burling said, “There’s definitely plenty to learn from today - it’s not as good as we’d like but we’re still in touch and all to play for tomorrow.”

“It’s pretty simple - if you’re a little bit off and close to a few other boats, you’ve got to get a couple good scores on the board. That’s SailGP - all you need to do is scrape into the top three and you’ve got a shot at winning it, and that’s exactly what we’re going to try to do,” Burling said.

The Spain Sail Grand Prix returns tomorrow (Monday) at 1.30am NZST. Fans can watch a full replay of today’s action on-demand in the ThereNow app, or on Three (linear) at 4.30pm.