SailGP presenter Lisa Darmanin dissects Christchurch's fast and furious racing action and looks ahead to the brewing 'blockbuster' San Francisco Grand Final.
Christchurch was SailGP’s long-anticipated first visit to New Zealand and it certainly lived up to expectations. The venue was absolutely unreal, but for me it was the excitement of the fans that was next level.
The racing was epic - especially the amount of close calls, port / starboards and mark room incidents that were going on - the boats were really within meters of each other. Everyone said they were completely in control. The improvement of the fleet means there’s more congestion in the mid-field - everyone is just getting better all the time.
Practice racing didn’t happen, which was especially disappointing for the less experienced teams. What we did learn is that these boats are so technical, they get worked on for hours but without the test run it’s hard to iron out any little gremlins that the boats might have. The sailors did their jobs, but there were a few tech issues. That just shows how much technology goes into these boats.
It was amazing to see Canada do well in this event. They came out and did well in the first two events of the season, which set expectations high, but those were simple venues with flat water and pretty constant breeze and easy to do well in with an experienced driver and wing trimmer. After that, we started to get trickier conditions. Canada has always been there - they’ve had a good day or a good couple of races but then they’ve come unstuck. To see them put it all together for the first time, especially off the back of Sydney, was definitely a highlight. They also kept the Kiwis and Aussies battling it out, which was good to see ahead of the Grand Final.
Heading into San Francisco, there’s going to be a battle between the French and British for that last spot in the Grand Final. From what we’ve seen this season, I’d say the French are most likely to take that final place because the windy conditions of San Francisco will really suit them. But we could get match racing and games being played between the two boats and then anything could happen. Ben Ainslie is a very experienced driver and that could be intimidating.
Both Emirates Team GBR and France missed the opportunity to practice the three-boat Final format in Christchurch and I think that matters. Finals are super unique - everything is on the start really and the start is very different. Instead of having nine boats, you’ve got three and you can start wherever you want. Having said that, Quentin has had a few Finals this year and has won two events (Sydney and Cadiz). The Brits haven’t won an event all season and I think it’s good to have that confidence.
San Francisco always delivers good wind. The Grand Final is later in the season this year, which means the wind could be even stronger, so there’s going to be plenty of action. We’re probably not going to know who is in the Final until about 10 minutes before, which is what every sport fan wants. The mid-pack is also really tight so I think we’ll see lots of battles going on between between Jimmy (Spithill), Phil (Robertson) and Nicolai (Sehested), and between the two young drivers of Spain and Switzerland, Diego Botin and Sébastien Schneiter, to not come last. I think everyone pushes a bit harder when everything is on the line, and with those four boats all lined up to compete for the top three spots, it’s shaping up to be a blockbuster Final.