Just five weeks after their photo finish victory in Dubai, New Zealand has come out on top in the first-ever Mubadala Abu Dhabi Sail Grand Prix. Crucially, the Kiwis moved up another spot in the season standings. Beating Spain and the USA in an intense three-boat final, New Zealand is now second overall, just six points shy of frontrunners, Australia.
Celebrating the victory, New Zealand wing trimmer Blair Tuke said: “What an amazing way to start 2024 - to bounce back like we have [this season] shows a whole heap of grit from this team. The way we’re finding our way through these light-air events has been hugely pleasing.”
Championship Sunday saw teams once again adopt the light-wind, 29-metre wing configuration. But a lack of breeze didn’t mean a shortage of action. Highly tactical racing and a tight battle for third in fleet race five kept fans - and athletes - on the edge of their seats throughout the event’s final fleet races.
New Zealand driver Peter Burling said: “It was probably about the most stressful racing you can get. We were just battling it out in the middle all day.”
New Zealand finished sixth in fleet race four, which began in chaos. Nearly all ten boats were penalised for crossing the startline early, while Australia - one of the few clear - managed to sail away with the win.
In the fifth and final fleet race of the weekend, the Kiwis narrowly secured the points needed for the podium race, hanging on in sixth just a boat-length ahead of France.
From there, it was into the podium final. The Kiwis executed a perfect start to secure the all-important inside track to mark one, increasing their lead as Spain and the USA tussled in their wake. Despite the Spanish making a late comeback on the final leg, it was New Zealand who crossed the finish line first.
Burling said, “We got a really good start in that last race, led at mark one and life was pretty easy from there.”
Picking up 10 season points, Strategist Liv Mackay said, “At the end of the day, we’re looking to win the season, so for us this is a really important milestone. We’re midway, so continuing to move towards the Australians at the front is super important. We’re just going to carry on building from here.”
With the second UAE event now done and dusted, the most exciting race on water heads down under next month, with a return to Sydney Harbour 24-25 February 2024 and the final sprint to Christchurch (23-24 March 2024).
Burling said: “It’s been a long time since we’ve sailed in the breeze. It will be awesome to get back out there and show what these boats can do - especially in front of our fans at home.”