The United States and Japan are in pole position to qualify for the Italy Sail Grand Prix Final with both teams winning 21 points on the first day of racing in Taranto.
Jimmy Spithill’s US Team won two of three fleet races on the first race day, with Japan claiming a single victory, as light wind conditions in southern Italy meant each F50 only featured three crew rather than the usual five.
The US won the first and final races of the day, sandwiching a lone Japanese victory, to end the day with 21 points. Despite Nathan Outteridge’s team also winning 21 points, Japan ended race day 1 in second place as the US claimed victory in the most recent race to top the leaderboard. Spain rounded out the top three ahead of day two, with the three highest placed teams at the end of the five fleet races qualifying for the winner-takes-all Final.
US driver Spithill said: “When you are sailing three-up, you’ve got all the jobs of five crew members going essentially to two guys, as the driver doesn’t do a whole lot. So full credit to CJ [Paul Campbell-James] and Rome [Kirby].
“We were just trying to stay clean and get away from the pack behind us.”
Great Britain and New Zealand, both featuring replacement drivers in Italy, endured mixed days and sit down the rankings, while Season 1 champion Australia - who won four of the five fleet races in the opening event of Season 2 in Bermuda - DNFed the first race, finished sixth in race two and last in the third race to end the day bottom of the rankings.
Due to lighter conditions on the Mar Grande, it was decided ahead of racing that each boat would feature just three crew onboard, while the course was also moved further away from shore to achieve better winds.
The US began the day with a brilliant win, overtaking Japan and New Zealand with a final leg sprint to finish 11 seconds clear of Nathan Outteridge’s team. Outteridge had raced well in the light winds, but Spithill’s late surge guided the US F50 through the tightest of gaps between the Japanese and New Zealand boats to clinch the first victory of the day.
The race was not so successful for the Aussies and characterised the team’s unfortunate day. A hydraulic issue meant its F50 came to an almost complete stop just one minute after crossing the starting line, and Slingsby’s team eventually pulled out of the race and was declared DNF.
Outteridge continued his mastery of light winds in race two, leading from the start and reaching the fourth leg more than ten seconds ahead of Spithill’s United States in second. Surely fearing another possible overtake by the US in a replay of race one, Japan actually lost its lead to Spain - whose F50 was flying with Phil Robertson driving.
But Japan kept up the pace and managed a vital overtake of its own, passing Spain on the final leg and crossing the finishing line just one second clear of Robertson’s team.
With Japan top of the leaderboard heading into the final race of the day, the pressure was on Outteridge to maintain his team’s lead amid pressure from the US. But a fine start by Spithill’s team saw the US race into the lead and dominate proceedings, taking the turns smoothly and consistently extending its lead to cross the finish line well ahead of Japan in second.
This final US victory meant the two dominant teams on the day, Japan and the US, ended equal on 21 points to sit in pole position for qualification for the Final.
Elsewhere in the fleet, there were mixed performances by the replacement drivers in Taranto, with Arnaud Psarofaghis in charge of the New Zealand boat and Paul Goodison driving Great Britain’s F50. Psarofaghis, replacing Peter Burling due to his Olympic commitments, secured third, sixth and fifth placed finishes, while Goodsion guided the Brits - who won the opening event of Season 2 under permanent driver Ben Ainslie - to sixth, fourth and seventh in the race rankings.
The Kiwis and Great Britain remain within touching distance of qualifying for Sunday’s winner-takes-all Final, however, as both teams sit only six points behind third place Spain at end of play.