New Zealand is hoping for back-to-back wins on the Persian Gulf this weekend, gearing up for SailGP’s first-ever event in Abu Dhabi. All ten teams hit the water for official practice racing this afternoon.
New Zealand flight controller Andy Maloney said: “It’s great to be here in Abu Dhabi - the forecast is quite light here but given it’s such a small course, there are still plenty of boat-on-boat situations and a lot of really tactical decisions needed around the race course. Today was great practice for what we can expect on the weekend - now it’s time to switch our heads into the game.”
Halfway through the season, the Kiwis enter the weekend third in the overall standings after a breakthrough win last month in Dubai. Maloney said: “It’s great to come off the back of a win at the end of last year in Dubai. We’re hoping to carry that momentum into this weekend and build on our performance.”
New Zealand driver Peter Burling said: “Dubai was a turning point for us and an awesome way to finish the year. We overcame a lot of challenges in Europe, so it feels really good to be back in the top three.”
Reflecting that win - the closest in SailGP history - Canadian driver Phil Robertson expressed concerns over the umpires’ decision-making. Despite crossing the finish line first, a last minute penalty denied Canada victory while trans-Tasman rivals New Zealand and Australia crossed the finish almost side-by-side - New Zealand narrowly in front.
Robertson said: “If I look at the umpire app, I can see why they made that decision but if I look at it from [the] racer's point of view you would probably think differently.”
“The way the umpires are set up now, [they] sit in London. We’re in Abu Dhabi. They’re umpiring us from an office and the view they have is very different from the view a driver has in one of these boats. That’s scary to be honest and it’s pushing the game closer and closer,” Robertson said.
While this weekend may mark SailGP’s inaugural stop in the city of sand and skyscrapers, SailGP global CEO Sir Russell Coutts has revealed the city would host SailGP’s grand final from Season 5 onwards.
The event will also be the first for Emirates Great Britain’s new driver, two-time Olympic gold medallist Giles Scott, who steps in after Sir Ben Ainslie’s retirement as a SailGP athlete earlier this month. ROCKWOOL Denmark will also have a new-but-familiar face at the wheel, with Nathan Outteridge covering for Nicolai Sehested, at home for the birth of his second child.
The Mubadala Abu Dhabi Sail Grand Prix presented by Abu Dhabi Sports Council begins tomorrow, Saturday 13 January at 2pm local time (11pm NZST) - live and on-demand on ThreeNow, with delayed coverage on Three (linear) at 4.30pm Sunday.
After this weekend’s event, the most exciting race on waters returns down under for the KPMG Australia Sail Grand Prix | Sydney (24-25 February 2024) and the long-awaited ITM New Zealand Sail Grand Prix | Christchurch (23-24 March 2024). A handful of tickets still remain, available only at Ticketek.co.nz/SailGP.