Australia and Emirates GBR are at the top of the leaderboard tied on points after the first day of white-knuckle racing in Taranto saw the windiest conditions of Season 4 yet.
Both teams finished the day tied on 26 points after an action-packed day of racing, while Quentin Delapierre’s France rebounded from a tepid season start to finish the day in 3rd with 24.
The windiest conditions of Season 4 so far saw gusts of 45 km/h, creating an unstable sea state and making it a key day for wing trimmers and flight controllers.
The Aussies dominated early on, picking up two race wins by converting excellent starts into untouchable leads. But an early start penalty in the third fleet race sent them to the back of the pack and they were unable to recover, finishing in 5th.
Emirates GBR meanwhile rode the momentum of their Saint-Tropez event win to pull off three solid races, finishing the day with a 2-2-3 race record.
France too seemed to find their stride, ending the day with 3-4-2 race results that puts them just two points behind Emirates GBR and Australia heading into day two.
But the French are just one point clear of Nicolai Sehested’s ROCKWOOL Denmark, which pulled off a clinical performance in Fleet Race 3, crossing the line with a massive 23 second lead.
Speaking about the conditions, Emirates GBR driver Ben Ainslie said it was a ‘tough day’.
“We haven’t sailed in that much breeze for a while but our team did a great job handling the boat and we managed to come through with three solid race results.”
He added that it was a ‘massive day’ for the flight controllers and wing trimmers of the fleet. “[Emirates GBR flight controller] Luke Parkinson really put it all out there for us today to keep us in the air - on days like today you really count on those guys.”
Elsewhere, there was plenty of drama, with Erik Heil’s Germany forced to retire after snapping a foil in the first fleet race. It comes after New Zealand was ruled unable to compete in Taranto after sustaining serious wing damage in Saint-Tropez.
Later, America flight controller Hans Henken was injured after the U.S. F50 crashed down into the water.
A statement from SailGP said: "During the third race today, September 23, at the ROCKWOOL Italy Sail Grand Prix in Taranto, United States SailGP Team athlete Hans Henken sustained an injury during a maneuver. The athlete is conscious, is responding well, and has been taken to hospital where a full examination is taking place."
Racing resumes at 13:30 CEST on Sunday, September 24.