Nathan Outteridge and Tom Slingsby renewed their rivalry on Saturday to end the opening day of the Mubadala United States Sail Grand Prix at the top end the table on equal points.
With huge crowds gathered in San Francisco to watch the action on a fine spring afternoon, Japan and Australia put in top-class performances to each claim 18 points and finish the day first and second respectively. The Aussies didn’t win a race on the Bay, but a string of consistent showings were excellent preparation for Sunday’s Grand Final.
Japan, meanwhile, won race three and their current points total all-but ensures their qualification for the Final, alongside Australia and the United States, who themselves disappointed on home waters to end the day in seventh place.
As the sun beamed down on the Bay as the action kicked off, all eyes were on Great Britain’s newly designed boat which bears an eye-catching livery. And Ben Ainslie’s team christened their new F50 in perfect fashion, winning the opening race ahead of the Aussies.
The British boat was not the only new thing on display in San Francisco, however, as Spain also had a new Driver in place following the exit of Phil Robertson earlier this week. Unfortunately, it was a debut race to forget for Jordi Xammar, whose team finished in last place.
Things certainly got better for the Barcelona native, though. A third place finish in race two - courtesy of a late penalty to Australia which knocked Slingsby’s team down the rankings - was followed up by a second place finish in the final race of the day. The delight onboard F50 Victoria was audible as the finish line was crossed in front of the sold-out bleachers.
Denmark claimed the victory in the second race, securing just their third win of the season, while Japan recovered well from an early mistake which saw them drop off their foils to rise up into second. The home USA team disappointingly finished seventh in this race, amid suggestions Jimmy Spithill and his crew may be reserving their strength for the Grand Final
Increasing winds as the day wore on resulted in some breakneck speeds in the third Fleet Race, with Japan breaking the 90 km/h mark on multiple occasions on their way to victory. Spain (second) and Australia (third) also proved their credentials in the strong winds.
As for the remainder of the fleet, it was a disappointing day for France, with a 7-8-7 record seeing them finish last, five points adrift of the USA in seventh. New Zealand’s mixed performances - including a last place finish in race three - had them one point ahead of Spithill’s team at the end of the day.
Race Day 2 begins at 2pm PDT / 21:00 UTC on Sunday with two further Fleet Races planned before the Grand Final. The team that tops the leaderboard after the two Fleet Races will be crowned event champion, before the top three teams take part in the winner-takes-all final race.
Barring any serious boat damage on Sunday, Australia, the United States and Japan will go head-to-head on the Bay for the Championship trophy.