It’s been a frustrating season for Tom Slingsby’s Australia. Fresh from winning a third consecutive Championship in San Francisco, the Aussies entered Season 4 with confidence and purpose. Consistent podium results sent them to the top of the leaderboard in Los Angeles and they’ve stayed there ever since.
Heading into the latter half of the season, the Aussies remain in a commanding position with 56 points - still 6 ahead of their biggest threat and rival New Zealand, while ROCKWOOL DEN and the USA are tied for 3rd with 43 apiece - a full 13 points behind Slingsby’s crew. It’s a performance any other team in SailGP would be delighted with. But Slingsby likes winning and Australia hasn’t won an event all season.
The team's 12-event run of podium finishes ended dramatically in Abu Dhabi, with the Aussies going from 1st to 7th overall after picking up an early start penalty in the final fleet race. Slingsby criticized the F50’s starting software after racing, claiming Australia’s computers positioned the green and gold F50 behind the line at the gun. As it turned out, Australia was 10cm over the line, which earned them an OCS penalty and sent them to the back of the pack. “You’re dealing with very fine margins in SailGP and we were on the wrong side of the margin in that race,” Slingsby says. “It’s pretty unheard of to have a bad race and go from 1st to 7th in one go, but that’s what happened.”
Abu Dhabi was a ‘frustrating’ event, Slingsby says, and marked Australia’s worst result since Season 2’s France Sail Grand Prix when they finished 8th. For this reason, he’s chalking it off as ‘a bit of bad luck’. “We were unlucky there and we’re not looking too much into it.” It was also ‘karma’ he says for throwing down the gauntlet to SailGP’s younger teams before racing. Ahead of Abu Dhabi, Slingsby used the pre-event press conference to challenge new drivers, claiming they ‘have’t stepped up to the plate as much as they should’. Despite Diego Botin’s Spain and Taylor Canfield’s USA beating Australia to the Final in Abu Dhabi, Slingsby says he ‘stands by’ the comments. “It’s a bit of karma that we had a bad event and got beaten by a few of the younger guys but I stand by it - they have an amazing opportunity in SailGP and they need to take it with both hands and not let the older guys win races against them.”
He admits that Australia is at its weakest in light airs - conditions in newer, less experienced teams have excelled. “Non-foiling conditions are our weakness for sure,” he says. “The windier it gets, the stronger we feel.” Previously, Slingsby questioned the level of skill required in light air racing suggesting ‘there’s a lot more luck involved’ than in high winds.
Australia’s lack of confidence in light airs explains the team’s recent win drought. Season 4 has plagued by light airs, with teams relying instead of tactics and strategy to get ahead. Earlier this season, SailGP banned the practice of teams lowering and raising their boards to accelerate in light airs after the fleet adopted the move to get ahead in Chicago and Los Angeles.
“We’ve had 7 events where we’re raced with 4 crew in the Final - and that means it’s under 11 km/h of wind,” Slingsby says. “This league is supposed to be about fast, foiling boats competing on a world circuit and unfortunately we haven’t had the conditions to show that.” He admits some of this has been down to ‘bad luck’ but also suggests the league ‘needs to look at its venue selection’.
For this reason, Slingsby is looking forward more than ever to returning home for the upcoming KPMG Australia Sail Grand Prix on February 24-25. “Sydney is our favorite event of the season but more than anything we just want some wind,” he says. Stronger wind conditions could play in Australia’s favor, while being at home also means familiarity with the ‘food, language and culture’. This means there’s ‘no issue about being comfortable’ and ‘no excuses’ for the team when racing gets underway, Slingsby says.
While Slingsby says he’s ‘trying not to think about’ the possibility of the team sealing its first Season 4 win in Sydney, he admits ‘it’s our best chance to win an event this season’. In fact, he’s keen for Sydney to mark a key change for the team. “We’re very keen to turn it around in the second half of the season,” he says. "We feel we have a good shot of winning the events in the run up to the Grand Final.” While winning events doesn’t matter to the team’s overall ambition of securing a place in San Francisco’s three-boat, season-deciding showdown, Slingsby says it’s crucial for the team’s Grand Final preparation. “Winning is a habit and you’ve got to get that winning feeling and culture into the team so that you’re ready to perform when the Grand Final comes - you can’t just turn it on and win after multiple events not winning - that’s just not how it works.”
The KPMG Australia Sail Grand Prix | Sydney takes place on February 24-25.