A Day of Troubles: Behind the scenes with the Japan SailGP Team

30 MAY 2019News
  • Japan

Japan SailGP Team battled technical issues during their final day of racing on San Francisco Bay. Here’s what you didn’t see on the broadcast.

After dominating in training and posting three race wins on the opening day, the Japan SailGP Team were owning the leaderboard, in the perfect position to take the win at SailGP's inaugural San Francisco event. However it quickly became apparent that things weren’t going to go their way on day two.

After just a few practice tacks prior to racing, the crew realized something wasn't right with their wing sail. They were immediately surrounded by the SailGP technical team support boats, who worked fast to diagnose the problem. With the clock ticking down, the team started contemplating whether to sit out the first race to make sure they had a fully functioning wing sail for the final fleet race and all-important match race, or whether they should attempt to make it around the race course. Ultimately it took an hour to identify a hydraulic value as the culprit. With just six minutes to the first race, a spare part arrived, the issue was resolved, and the Japanese team headed to the start line. They were back in action.

"That's an awesome effort from the tech team and all the boys to sort that problem out down to the last seconds before the start," said Japan’s Shore Team Manager Stu Bettany. "It's impressive to see the skill level of everyone involved, so full credit to all those guys."

After a dramatic second-place finish where they overtook Australia within meters of the finish line after the green and gold boat crashed off the foils, it looked like their day was back on track.

However, in the second race of the day, the blistering boat speed and slick boat maneuvers the team is known for seemed to be lacking and resulted in an uncharacteristic fourth place finish. There were some disappointed faces on board, but it had secured the team’s place in the final match race.

While the wing repair had done the trick, it was the daggerboards that were causing the issue this time. The team could not get them off the lock and as a result could be seen foiling with both daggerboards locked down, instead of just the required leeward board. Again it was a race against time to get the team ready for the final against Australia and the chance of winning its first SailGP event. Once again, the technical team came to the rescue, solving the problem.

Just when it seemed that nothing else could go wrong, and with seconds to go until the start of the winner-takes-all match race in San Francisco, helmsman Nathan Outteridge came over the radio with a third problem: software failure. The display - a critical piece of equipment that displays all the core data - had failed on one side of the wing sail, so the crew was left with no option but to fly the boat blind. Their only knowledge of the time to start was from a digital watch, and they did not know time or distance to the boundaries on the racecourse.

With no more time left to solve the issue, there was no choice but to push forward into the final showdown of San Francisco SailGP. Outteridge and crew were able to keep pace with the Australia SailGP Team for most of the race, until the Aussies gained the upper hand at the end, going on to win their second SailGP event of the inaugural season.

"We had no training because of the wing, and the tech team did a great job of getting it fixed just in time, which was awesome and got us into the first race, and the second race we had issues getting the daggerboard off the lock. You would have seen every tack from starboard to port, we'd just almost capsize, so that was quite frustrating,” explained Outteridge. "We got everything fixed, and then as we went into the starting box our screen went down, so we had no software at all for the start. It kind of feels like right now we lost this one, we did everything we could to win, and it all just fell apart on Sunday."

While the end result was bitterly disappointing for the team, its competitive character and resilience shone through. There is no doubt that it’s only a matter of time until they win their first SailGP event. Will it be in New York next month?