In the fantastic nautical arena of Taranto, the public along the ramparts of the old city boasted a front row seat for the weekend’s jousting in this second act of the season 2. It was an act won by Nathan Outteridge’s Japanese crew poised for flight in very light airs. Securing 7th place, the French are inevitably disappointed.
This Italian Grand Prix played host to a number of new competition highlights, which featured a series of good and bad surprises according to the teams. Indeed, the new rules came into force, which has notably resulted in tougher penalties for crews involved in collisions, with the aim being to prevent a repeat performance of the incident in Bermuda. Another new feature devised by SailGP for sailing in light airs (less than 8 knots): a crew limited to 3 people aboard (instead of 5), a configuration trialled for the first time in training, before being officially incorporated in the 3 races on Saturday and in Sunday’s final. Inevitably this complicates matters for the men aboard as it requires the flight controller to improvise as grinder and the helm to trim the foils...
The watchwords of this Italian weekend were doubtless adaptation and responsiveness: in terms of this new crew configuration first of all, as well as the light (less than 10 knots) and extremely shifty breeze, where the sailors were required to double up as high wire artists, poised between flight and Archimedean mode, making every manoeuvre especially tricky with very random speeds posted down the straight.
The racing was a reflection of these fluky conditions: full of twists and turns. Unfortunate in Bermuda when the Grand Prix was cut short due to a collision, the Japanese and the Americans got their revenge in Italy.
Consistently at the top of the leader board throughout the weekend, they quite logically made the line-up in the final. However, behind Nathan Outteridge and James Spithill, it was necessary to wait for the results of the last fleet race in order to decide between the five crews still in contention for the top trio: the New Zealanders, who sailed a wonderful 4th race, the French, the British and the Danish tied on points, as well as the Spanish, who were firmly in place in the middle of the table. In the end, it was the latter who earned their podium ticket.
During the final three-way race – where the scorecard is reset – Nathan Outteridge’s Japanese SailGP crew secured victory ahead of Phil Robertson’s Spanish SailGP team, leaving the unfortunate Americans to retire from the race after colliding with a floating object, which damaged one of their rudders.
Though the Japanese and the Americans are firing on all cylinders again after their disappointment in Bermuda and the Spanish newcomers to the circuit have managed to put on a great display of their potential, the reverse is true for Tom Slingsby’s Australian crew. Victims of electronic issues on Saturday, they never recovered and finish last, a position they’ve never had before and one that is a very far cry from their champion title from season 1.
With a 5th, 7th, 2nd, 8th and 6th place in their races, the French team rank 7th in the Italy Sail Grand Prix. Billy Besson makes no secret of his disappointment: “We lamented 4 poor starts out of 5, which doesn’t help you sail a good race. Added to that, we clearly lacked flair in our ability to be opportunists. You had to be on the alert for the slightest gust and make no hesitation with the manoeuvres, instead of pushing the limits. It’s no big secret though, winning the starts is very, very important and it’s a guarantee of a good result every time. This is evidenced by the performance posted by the Americans and the Japanese, who dominated play, as well as the Kiwis when they took the win in race 4 at our expense (the French were ousted on the line ed’s note)”. Moreover, it’s thanks to a very fine start that the latter were able to treat themselves to a 2nd place and round off the day in style on Saturday… This small consolation was short-lived however, to the displeasure of Billy and his team.
The Italian races have shown that there is room for everyone in the bid to make the honour roll. “Nobody is out of contention, especially in these sailing conditions. Everyone is very tightly bunched and there’s precious little in it at the end,” confirms Billy Besson.
Surprising, the overall ranking after two Grands Prix reflects this observation: Spain SailGP Team has the upper hand over the British and Japanese. The French are 5th ahead of the Australians, but there are just 5 points between the first and last placed teams. This goes to show that the game is wide open and bodes well for a thrilling season between the 8 SailGP protagonists.
Next meeting on 17 and 18 July in Plymouth for the Great Britain Sail Grand Prix.