Since day one of SailGP, the dominance of Tom Slingsby’s Australia has made them the team to beat. Consecutive Season 1 and Season 2 Championship titles forged an unshakeable confidence in the team and they burst across the start line of Season 3 with the same surety.
The team won the first event in Bermuda and has so far picked up six podium positions across the season, including three event wins. Ahead of the team’s home event - this weekend’s KPMG Australia Sail Grand Prix in Sydney - Tom Slingsby reveals that, despite the results, this season ‘hasn’t been all sunshine and rainbows’, and explains why New Zealand’s rise into a Championship title contender doesn’t phase him ‘at all’.
Australia’s relentless presence at the top of the Season 3 leaderboard might paint a picture of constant racing perfection, but Slingsby says this hasn’t been the case. At this point in Season 2, the team was ‘probably feeling a bit more confident’, he says, highlighting the fact that Australia started the season by winning the first two events, but since then has only won ‘one out of the last six’.
The dominance the team enjoyed in Seasons 1 and 2 where ‘everyone else was racing for second place’ has slipped away. Even Australia’s incredible comeback in Dubai was a result of the team getting lucky, he says. “We didn’t sail that well, but managed to sneak away with the win when the points went our way.”
The team’s two-season dominance has also made them a target for the rest of the fleet. It’s not uncommon for the Aussies to find themselves frozen out of the start line or purposefully luffed by other teams looking to push them down the leaderboard. The racing quality has also dramatically improved across the fleet, with the United States, New Zealand and France all picking up event wins so far. “The game has definitely opened up a bit,” Slingsby says.
As a result, Sydney marks a golden opportunity - a chance to take advantage of the home support and advance the team’s Championship lead even further. “We’re really hoping that Sydney is going to be a bit of a turnaround for us,” Slingsby says “to get back the dominance that we had and kickstart us on the road to the San Francisco [Grand Final].” While Australia’s iron grip on the fleet might have slipped, the team has made good progress on increasing its consistency.
Australia’s worst result of the season was a fifth place finish in Saint-Tropez. In comparison, the team picked up two last place finishes in Season 2 in both Taranto and Saint-Tropez. “We’ve done a great job when things haven’t gone our way of making sure an event doesn’t turn into a terrible result,” Slingsby says. “It might not be our best result, but it’s not the end of the world.”
Key to this, he says, is the ability to call on the skills of ‘super sub’ Ed Powys, who has stepped in for wing trimmer Kyle Langford twice this season. Those events - where Langford has been absent - still resulted in respectable fourth and third place positions. Having Powys in the roster gives the team a definite ‘edge’, Slingsby says. “I don’t think any other team could finish in fourth or third if they lost their wing trimmer - Ed has been the one to keep our consistency high and our points score up.”
Heading into Sydney, the Aussies have had their heads down in preparation. This involves 'watching the replays, the on board feeds and examining our processes to improve ourselves individually and as a team - we’ve got to keep evolving.”
After the light wind venues of Dubai and Singapore - conditions that have historically been challenging for Australia - the team is looking forward to competing in the usual high winds of Sydney. “We feel more confident when the wind is up - maybe that’s our Australian blood,” Slingsby says. The combination of the home crowd support and the team’s previous two event wins in Sydney are set to serve as a ‘confidence booster’, Slingsby says. There’ll be ‘extra workload’, what with ‘media commitments and tech base tours’, but he has no concerns about the additional pressure to perform on home turf. “We’ve done well in Sydney historically and no-one puts more pressure on us than we do,” he says. “I’m not phased about the pressure side of it at all.” Slingsby is also looking forward to competing with his permanent crew line up again with Langford back on the start line. “Every team has their injuries and crew change ups - but we’ve had our fair share, and we’re hoping we can lock our line-up in for the final run to San Francisco.”
Despite the ups and downs of Season 3 so far and the rising threat of New Zealand, which currently sits in second place overall, Slingsby is confident Australia remains the ‘team to beat’. “Our team has won 12 SailGP events and the closest team to us has won three,” he says. “We’re fully confident that we can win events and we know that if we get into that final three, we’re the team to watch out for.”