The ITM New Zealand Sail Grand Prix | Christchurch kicks off on March 18. Ahead of the event, SailGP CEO Russell Coutts reveals his behind-the-scenes insight of the fleet.
The big news of this event is that we have all nine F50s racing this weekend. That’s thanks to the SailGP Tech Team doing an incredible job to get the boats back on the water. It would have been hard enough to repair one or two boats in that time frame, let alone nine, but they’ve put in an incredible effort to ensure we have the full fleet sailing. The initial reaction after Sydney’s weather incident was that we might have to pause things for six months, but here we are in New Zealand four weeks later with all nine teams on the starting line.
This is the first SailGP event in New Zealand and there’s a lot of excitement. Tickets have completely sold out, so the grandstands in front of the racecourse are going to be packed - it’s going to be a great spectacle for our fans. It’s also the New Zealand team’s home event and that comes off the back of their boat getting significantly damaged by a lightning strike in Singapore. That meant all of the electronics and hydraulics had to be replaced. Then in Sydney, the Kiwis were pretty unlucky to have an equipment failure in the first race, which put them into last place. They followed that with a third and fourth place finish - solid results that would normally get you onto the podium. But those technical problems and the shortened event, meant they finished down the leaderboard. That put them into a precarious position of fighting for points with France, Emirates Great Britain SailGP Team and Denmark.
This event really comes down to a battle between those four teams. The game is all about securing a place in the million-dollar, winner-takes-all, three-boat Grand Final. For Emirates GBR and Denmark, the only way to move forward is to beat New Zealand and/or France to move into the top three. The Australians and the Kiwis have enjoyed a slight performance advantage over the fleet for most of this season, but it’s almost as if the game re-starts now.
The French showed on day one of Sydney that they were sailing with almost a full degree of windward heel than all other teams. That’s obviously not easy to achieve otherwise they would all be doing it, because it’s definitely fast. So it will be interesting to see how much the other teams have closed the gap.
The race to the Season 3 Grand Final really comes down to the teams which respond the best to the pressure of these last two events. They cannot race with a conservative viewpoint if they want to make the top three. The reality is that racing is so close now that any of the top six teams could win an event. Denmark really has nothing to lose and it would be a fantastic turnaround for them to come out of New Zealand with a win and shake up that whole leaderboard. I imagine their mentality is focused on exactly that.
Elsewhere, I thought Spain, led by new driver Diego Botin, made good progress in Sydney. We’ll see how they develop over the next two events, but there’s a really good vibe in the team and you get the impression they think their process is preparing them to be competitive for Season 4.
The racecourse of Whakaraupō, Lyttelton Harbour is going to be largely unknown to the teams. High winds forecast for Friday meant we had to cancel practice racing, so teams will have no time to practice before they begin racing on Saturday. They won’t know the geography of the venue or have any familiarity with the course - so that will add another dynamic too. I’ve done a fair bit of sailing here and the dramatic high hills either side of the harbor mean the wind tends to funnel down. It will definitely be more disturbed on the left side of the course and there’s also a current active enough to be a factor. We’re expecting medium sea breezes for this weekend, which is a great forecast for this venue.
The ITM New Zealand Sail Grand Prix | Christchurch will take place on March 18 & 19, with racing kicking off at 15:00 NZDT. Full broadcast information and How To Watch details are HERE.