When Dylan Fletcher took to the helm of his F50 for SailGP's practice racing on Thursday, no one was expecting the Great Britain SailGP Team to beat Nathan Outteridge’s number one seeded Japan SailGP Team so handily, especially with the pressure of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge watching.
Thursday’s practice day re-enforced an exceptional week of sailing form the British SailGP team and proved that their success was not a flash in the pan. In the lead-up to Cowes SailGP, Fletcher and his team were the first to break through the 50-knot barrier in training and then dominated both practice races, setting the pace in Cowes for the rest of the fleet.
“The goal is to certainly overtake those guys and it’s only a matter of time before we are on their level,” said Fletcher. “It’s one of the hardest things in sport to stay at the top, it’s easier to rise up.”
All six helmsman are eager to claim the first to 50-knot record on the official racecourse, now that it's been done in practice, and with the forecast today this could be a reality.
On Wednesday in practice, Tom Slingsby’s Australia SailGP Team topped Fletcher’s top speed record but shortly after, broke the wing of the green and gold F50. The team was forced to opt-out of practice racing and has had very little time in the boat in preparation for Cowes.
"(The British and the U.S.) have had more training time, and it shows. We got off to a nice lead, but since then we haven't had much training, so they are catching us fast," said Slingsby. "The tech team and shore crew have been working really hard to get us back on the water today. There's been a lot of boat building to fix the wing and we have had to repair three control arms. They have been working tirelessly to get us ready for racing and we just want to get back out there."
Tensions are high among the athletes given the drama of the week. The decision was made to cancel racing on Saturday due to unsafe conditions in the Solent, resulting in a Super Sunday – with the winner decided after three fleet races. This decision is based on the racing rules and the fact that three fleet races must take place prior to the match race. Per the usual scoring method, finishes on Sunday will be scored by single-point values that will be added to the team's overall scores on the leaderboard.
Outteridge is the current king of the leaderboard and is anticipating the action in Cowes to be different from past events.
"The first few events, there were two teams that had good boat handling skills, so us and the Aussies could use boat handling to get good results, but now you've got four teams, including the Americans and the Brits, making tactical decisions to win races," said Outteridge. "We're racing against the best sailors in Great Britain. You'd expect them to be vying to win races now."
One team to also watch will be the China SailGP Team who will be looking to make moves up the fleet, after naming Paul Campbell-James as their wing trimmer for the Cowes event.
To the relief of the athletes and organizers, the weather is forecast to be significantly better on the Solent today, although wind speeds are predicted to range from 20 knots to over 30 knots so it will be an exciting day for fans and teams alike. If Slingsby's prediction is correct, audiences could witness high drama and even more record-breaking racing.
"We aren't even reaching the limits of these boats; we were only in 20 knots of breeze, and we did 51 knots. If we have 25 knots, we will go quicker again. These boats are getting faster and faster."
If the action that's happened on the water this week is any indication of Sunday's program, when all six teams take to the racecourse, fans will be witnessing the closest racing SailGP has seen yet. As season 1 has progressed, the intensity has ramped up as the final and million-dollar prize in Marseille approaches.
Racing will kick-off at 3.00 p.m. BST. The action is taking place just a stone's throw from the free SailGP Race Village at Eygpt Point in Cowes; the race village opens at 11.30 a.m. and features exclusive fan experiences that put audiences up close to the athletes and entertainment, as well as a young sailors from local clubs racing on RS Cat 14’s on the race course as part of the newly launched SailGP Inspire program
In anticipation of the battle on the water, grandstand seating for Cowes has sold out. However, tickets remain for the Cruise Premier experience which has promised to deliver spectators a privileged view, breathtakingly close to the action onboard the 'Red Jet' ferry. Course marshals will be on the water to direct boaters to the perfect ring-side seat to the action.
For fans in the U.K. that can’t get the event, for the first time racing will be live on the SailGP APP as well as on BT Sport. There will also be live commentary on Cowes Radio.
For those not in the U.K., racing will be air live in over 90 territories via our broadcast partners, as well as on the SailGP's digital platforms, including the SailGP APP. More details on viewing options can be found at SailGP.com/watch.
View the crew lists here.