United States driver Taylor Canfield has admitted Australia driver Tom Slingsby’s challenge to the next generation of SailGP drivers got him ‘fired up’ ahead of Abu Dhabi.

Slingsby used the pre-event press conference in Abu Dhabi to throw down the gauntlet to SailGP’s next generation of young drivers, challenging them to win events to prove their worth. It came after Slingsby, 39, was declared the oldest driver in the league following the departures of Ben Ainslie and Jimmy Spithill.

“The new, young generation - most of them haven’t won an event,” Slingsby said in Abu Dhabi. “If you’re the next generation, you’ve got to prove why you’re the best in the world and knock us old guys off the perch.”

Coincidentally, Abu Dhabi saw Taylor Canfield’s United States and Diego Botin’s Spain - two of the younger teams challenged by Slingsby - go head to head against Peter Burling’s New Zealand in the three boat Final. Australia meanwhile finished in 7th overall - its worst event result of the season - after suffering technical problems in the last fleet race.

Season 4 // United States driver Taylor Canfield in Abu Dhabi Mixed Zone

Canfield’s American crew especially impressed - with Abu Dhabi marking only the second event the team had raced together and its first podium finish.

“To come in and sail the most complex boats in the world against the best sailors in the world is never going to be easy, so to find ourselves in the Final and on the podium for Abu Dhabi was incredible,” Canfield said.

He admitted that Slingsby’s challenge to the next generation had got him ‘fired up’ ahead of racing, but agreed that ‘of course’ incoming athletes and drivers ‘need to step up’.

“There is a very steep learning curve for our team and we’re excited to see that,” he said. He promised there is ‘a lot more to come’ from the American team as SailGP prepares to return to Sydney later this month.

“It’s a promising show given that we’ve only sailed the boat together for 7 days but we have a lot more in the tank,” he said, issuing his own challenge to Slingsby as he prepares to race on home waters. “To the guys who have been around doing this for a while, I’d say watch out - we’re coming for you.”

Season 4 // Close up of USA driver Taylor Canfield in Abu Dhabi

Speaking after Abu Dhabi, Slingsby said his team’s 7th place result and ‘getting beaten by a few of the younger guys’ was ‘a bit of karma’, but reasserted his comments.

“The younger generation haven’t stepped up to the plate as much as they should and I totally stand by that,” he said. “They have an amazing opportunity here and they need to take it with both hands and not let the older guys win races against them.”

Rather than criticizing new drivers and teams, Slingsby said he simply meant to ‘throw down the challenge’. “Let’s see if they can catch us in the overall season.”

Next up, SailGP returns to the iconic city of Sydney for the KPMG Australia Sail Grand Prix on February 24-25.