With tricky conditions in Aarhus making the racecourse a ‘minefield’, the opening day of the ROCKWOOL Denmark Sail Grand Prix saw three different winners in three separate races, as well as a pre-event capsize that ruled out one team from competing.
SailGP’s first ever visit to Denmark, the ROCKWOOL Denmark Sail Grand Prix had been teased as a dramatic event earlier in the week because of strong winds during practice racing resulting in a capsize and then a broken SailGP speed record.
And Friday’s racing did not disappoint, as Denmark, the United States and Great Britain each claimed a race victory in Aarhus - with the Danish team delighting the onlooking fans with its first ever SailGP race win on home waters.
Despite not winning a single race on Friday, it was Australia who ended Race Day 1 in pole position to qualify for Saturday’s three-team winner-takes-all Final, as two second places and a fifth place finish saw Tom Slingsby’s team topping the leaderboard - ranking one point ahead of the Brits and two in front of the US in third.
Denmark’s fine start to its home event was followed up by a couple of poor results which dropped Nicolai Sehested and his team down to fourth at the end of play - though the Vikings do sit just three points behind the Aussies. New Zealand initially ended the day in third place, but after racing was hit with two penalty points due to an incident with France which dropped the Kiwis down to fifth; France was penalised four points for the same incident.
Japan and France, sitting sixth and seventh respectively, head into day two with a lot of work to do if they are to qualify for the Final.
Spain, meanwhile, finished Race Day 1 with zero points, as they unfortunately sustained foil damage in a pre-race capsize which ruled Phil Robertson’s team out the entire day’s action.
The day began the best for the home team, with Denmark claiming its first race win of the season in front of its own fans. An extremely tight encounter, the Danes only just pipped Australia to first place, with New Zealand also narrowly beating out Great Britain to a third place finish.
Speaking after the race, Danish Driver Sehested said: “It’s a bit tricky out here; you look like a hero one moment but zero the next moment.
“It is really puffy and there is not really a system to it, so you just have to sail what you see and be a little bit flexible. You can’t get too stressed when you fall behind boats as it’s a bit of snake and ladders out here. So patience and a calm boat is key today.”
The Danes dropped out the top three in the second race, however, with the United States, Australia and Japan finishing first, second and third respectively.
“It's quite a difficult racetrack - it really is a minefield,” added US Driver Jimmy Spithill. “I think whether you are in first or last, everyone has got a bit of an opportunity at the moment. But that makes for exciting racing.
“We are just going to take in one by one. With each race we are just getting stronger, and we are trying to make gains with each race and each maneuver.”
Spithill also had praise for interim wing trimmer Jason Saunders, who is sailing for the US in Aarhus due to Paul Campbell-James breaking his leg during practice earlier this week.
“He [Saunders] did a great job,” added Spithill. “Man, it’s impressive; he’s come in late last night, jumped in with no training and no practice and just slotted in really nicely with the boys. So we are going to have some fun.”
Great Britain, who broke SailGP’s speed record during Thursday’s training in Aarhus, disappointed in the first two races of the day, dropping from fourth in Race 1 to fifth in Race 2. But a fine showing in Race 3 resulted in Ben Ainslie’s team claiming a vital win to move up to second in the event leaderboard - only one point behind the first placed Aussies.
The US rounded out the top three of the rankings at the end of Race Day 1, though with only three points separating leaders Australia from Denmark down in fourth, there are sure to be many twists and turns during the second day of racing in Aarhus on Saturday.