Britannia rules the waves as Sir Ben Ainslie leads team to SailGP glory
Great Britain, led by Sir Ben Ainslie, performed an incredible turnaround to be crowned Bermuda Sail Grand Prix presented by Hamilton Princess champions today.
Having endured a mixed first day of action, including finishing second-last in the first two races, Britain found themselves in sixth position in the standings, with their hopes of progressing to the winners-take-all final firmly in the balance.
However, building on a second-place finish in the third race of the first day, Britain got off to the perfect start, winning the drama-fuelled first race today before going on to seal their place in the top three with a second-placed finish in race five.
Facing Australia and surprise package France in the final, Britain completed their impressive turnaround, as Ainslie won the head-to-head battle of wits with Australian helm Tom Slingsby to clinch glory and seize the early ascendancy in the overall standings.
It proved a crushing blow for Slingsby and Australia, who had dominated much of the event, sweeping the first day on their way to victories in four of the six races overall. However, such is harsh format of SailGP that they ultimately leave Bermuda as runners-up.
France, who were never in real contention in the final showdown, will be satisfied with their endeavours in finishing third overall, as will the young Spanish team, who sit fourth in the standings.
New Zealand, who headed into the second day propping up the standings, regained some pride by finishing fourth and fifth to remain fifth overall, closely followed by Denmark.
In stark contrast it proved a disastrous event for Nathan Outteridge’s Japan and particularly Jimmy Spithill’s United States. Having collided into one another in race four, the US suffered a dramatic capsize, as both failed to make the start line for race five.
The two teams have much to do in the second round of racing in Taranto, Italy, in June, with Japan seventh in the standings on four points and the US left rooted to the bottom on three.
Ahead of racing and amid gusts of up to 44km/h, Outteridge predicted carnage and so it proved.
With Spain being handed a two-boat length penalty for crossing the start line too early, Britain seized the initiative ahead of Australia and the much improved New Zealand.
A slight mistake by Ainslie around the mark into the third leg handed the lead over to Slingsby, while New Zealand, USA and Japan jostled for position.
That battle between the latter two ultimately ignited soon after as a late manoeuvre by Outteridge resulted in the Japanese boat mounting the US F50 as both came off their foils.
Back in the tussle for victory, Australia failed to give Britain the required space at another mark, and a penalised Slingsby was forced to hand the lead back over to Ainslie.
Having recovered from the collision with Japan, Spithill and United States’ race went from bad to worse in disastrous fashion as they suffered a dramatic capsize, ending their race.
Keeping his composure and successfully rounding the final mark, Britain crossed the line to take victory ahead of Australia, while Spain continued their encouraging form in third. New Zealand pipped France to fourth with Denmark wrapping up proceedings in sixth.
USA, who were eventually uprighted, and Japan failed to finish. The damage suffered by both put paid to their endeavours for the day as neither managed to make the start line for race five.
The victory gave Britain renewed hope of sealing a place in the final, sitting joint third with Spain on 27 points. France were in second on 29 points, ten adrift of clear leaders Australia whose place in the showpiece was secured. Denmark and New Zealand found themselves out of contention altogether.
Finishing order: Great Britain (10pts), Australia (9), Spain (8), New Zealand (7), France (6), Denmark (5), Denmark (1), US (1).
With just six boats starting the race, all eyes were on Great Britain, France and Spain to see who would seize one of the two remaining places
Just as they had in the day’s first race, Spain got off to the worst possible start after being handed a triple penalty for a late and reckless manoeuvre to the start line.
Britain held the early advantage in the second leg but an incident with New Zealand saw them drop to fourth and Australia snatched the lead. More significantly, it also allowed Spain and France to move into second and third and in pole position to progress into the final.
However, by the third gate it was all change again as a sharply taken tacking manoeuvre by Spain, which almost resulted in helm Phil Robertson going overboard, handed the initiative back to Britain, who moved back into second.
Australia crossed the line to claim their fourth victory in six races, while despite a nose-dive into the lead up to the final gate, Ainslie crucially managed to keep the British boat on its foils to seal a second-place finish and place in the final.
Behind, the battle for third intensified as Spain seized on a late error from France to outsprint their rivals to the finish line for third.
However, the Spanish team were ultimately left to rue their earlier costly mistake and wonder what could have been, as they missed out on a place in the final by a single point.
Finishing order: Australia (10pts), Great Britain (9), Spain (8), France (7), New Zealand (6), Denmark (5). US and Japan did not start.
After five action-packed races, it all came down to a winners-take-all race between Australia, Great Britain and France.
As most expected, the race quickly turned into a straight battle of the wits between Ainslie and Slingsby, as Britain and Australia had moved clear of France by the second gate.
Opting for different sides of the course, the lead changed hands continuously throughout the early stages, before Britain edged ahead at the halfway point.
Maintaining that slight advantage through gate four, a straight drag race back down the course ensued, as both opted for different sides once again.
By the penultimate leg, the British lead stood at a mere 100 metres as two manoeuvres remained before the final sprint for the line.
However, as the Australian pressure mounted, Ainslie, the most successful sailor in Olympic history with five consecutive medals at the Games, was in no mood to lose his composure, holding his nerve round the final mark.
All that was left was to race to the line, sparking wild celebrations among the British crew, who had completed an incredible turnaround to clinch glory.
Australia followed narrowly behind, with France rounding off proceedings to seal an impressive third-place finish overall.
Finishing order: Great Britain, Australia, France
Championship standings: Great Britain (10pts), Australia (9), France (8), Spain (7), New Zealand (6), Denmark (5), Japan (4), United States (3)