*The ITM New Zealand Sail Grand Prix | Christchurch kicks off on Saturday March 23, with the F50 fleet returning to the epic location of Whakaraupō, Lyttelton Harbour. Ahead of the event, SailGP CEO Russell Coutts gives his behind the scenes insight of the fleet in training. *

We’re back in Christchurch for the second time and it’s set to be the biggest ticketed event in SailGP history - with around 11,000 people on site each day. When it comes to the wind conditions, we’re looking at around 13 km/h - 20 km/h on Saturday and a stronger forecast of 27-35 km/h on Sunday, which will make for an exciting final day of racing.

Season 4 // SailGP CEO Russell Coutts on New Zealand F50 wing damage

The big news is that Kiwi driver Pete Burling is back on board the New Zealand boat after missing Sydney. The Kiwi team, which recently launched their new identity ‘The Black Foils’, have made it clear they really want to win this event in front of their huge home crowds.

Season 4 // Peter Burling at Christchurch press conference

Their big rivals are Australia - who come to New Zealand after winning their own home event in Sydney. Despite this, Australia started badly in almost every race in Sydney, including the Final. Christchurch’s racecourse includes an obstruction in the middle of the course, which is challenging, and it’s generally a leaders’ track. If you start well, you should be able to hold that position around the course, so I don’t think the Australians will be able to start like they did in Sydney and win here. Despite such a poor start in Sydney’s Final, the key moment for the Aussies was the positioning of their final tack into Gate 4 which allowed them to pass ROCKWOOL DEN - that was basically inch perfect.

Season 4 // ROCKWOOL DEN underway in practice racing in Christchurch

By the same token, that was made easier by a critical positioning error by the Danish. They should have pressed down on or slightly below the layline giving them more speed and forcing Australia to tack earlier. Australia wouldn't have been able to foil tack and lay the mark, and I think the Danes would have held more speed and passed them around the outside. But that’s really the story of ROCKWOOL DEN this season - they get into strong positions, but make tactical errors at key moments. If they tidy up those errors, they’ve definitely got the boat speed and maneuvers to contend for the Grand Final in San Francisco at the end of the season.

Season 4 // Nathan Outteridge at Christchurch press conference

The big news of this event is Nathan Outteridge swapping in to drive the Swiss F50 for the rest of the season - replacing Sebastien Schneiter. Ultimately I feel this will make the team a lot more competitive. Nathan is still lacking racing time - we saw that in Abu Dhabi and even in Sydney with the Final start line error. But that’s just a sign of being out of practice. With every race, Nathan will get better and better.

Season 4 // Switzerland underway on practice day in Christchurch

He’ll be giving great feedback to the wing trimmer and flight controller and by the end of this season I expect Switzerland to be doing a lot better. They’re too far behind on points to contend for the Season Championship, but they can still win events. It will be interesting to see what happens in Season 5 if that’s the case - this is professional sports after all and the team owe it to their fans to put the best team on the water.

When it comes to the USA, I thought it was interesting that CEO Mike Buckley put himself into the strategist position on the second day of Sydney, despite the whole team voting against it. The problem is that the U.S. team hasn't had time to train Anna Weiss in flight control, so she can only move into the grinder position and she’s not as strong as their specialist grinders. When it gets windy or gusty, that wing sheet has to move fast and frequently, so the power of the grinders has a lot of influence on the stability of the boat, both in terms of heel and ride height.

Season 4 // USA CEO Mike Buckley in Christchurch

Having said that, the USA has generally impressed. With their lack of time in the boat, no-one expected them to be anywhere near the top of the fleet at this stage yet they’ve been contending and starting well. That shows they have what it takes to be a contender in Season 5.

Spain had a really good first day in Sydney but a disappointing second day. They need to improve their consistency in the starts and they still have a way to go in high winds - that remains their Achilles' Heel. In fairness, they haven’t had a lot of time with the high speed foils so their 4th position in the championship standings is pretty impressive, especially considering they are ahead of the French.

Season 4 // Canada with Christchurch fleet on practice day

Canada had really bad luck on the first day of racing in Sydney with a technical issue which meant they couldn’t race. There’s no redress in SailGP, so unfortunately that meant they were always going to finish the weekend at the back of the fleet. I actually think they would have contended in Sydney without those technical issues and I expect them to perform well in Christchurch. They won here last season and if [driver] Phil Robertson can get his mojo back, I have every expectation they’ll do well with the conditions forecast for this weekend.

Season 4 // Germany F50 underway in Christchurch practice

Germany meanwhile executed amazing starts in Sydney. There’s no question that Erik Heil has plenty of talent - he just needs more time in the boat. Germany ended up with their first race win in Sydney and I think once they’ve got the consistency of boat speed and crew maneuvers it’s only a matter of time before they’re contending at the top of the fleet.

France meanwhile has been plagued with fourth place finishes this season. They should have made the podium multiple times but they’ve been making key mistakes at key moments, usually boat handling errors. I’m sure they can still make the Grand Final in San Francisco but if they get beaten by the Danish in Christchurch, their chances might be slim.

I’m picking Australia to win the final here in Lyttelton.

*The ITM New Zealand Sail Grand Prix | Christchurch takes place on March 23-24, with racing from 15:00 NZDT. *