Tom Slingsby braced for tough SailGP title defence
Tom Slingsby, the Australia helmsman, is backing his team to retain their SailGP title but admits the task will not be easy as the chasing pack continue to narrow the gap.
“‘It’s going to get tougher and tougher,” the Olympic and five-times world champion said. “Obviously the teams are getting better and better, and they are going to start catching us. And also I think as the race gets more competitive, and with more events, we now have pretty severe collision penalty points and the boats are getting closer.
“It’s really going to be just staying out of trouble. You saw a few of the teams, their season was ruined with getting penalty points from collisions. If we can get through the first half of the year without too many scratches on the boat and extra penalty points, I think we will be looking pretty good.
“I think we’re pretty solid in most conditions. But light air can still be kind of a weakness for us, so we have to clean up our game there.”
Slingsby reckons Great Britain (Sir Ben Ainslie), United States (Jimmy Spithill) and New Zealand (Peter Burling) pose the biggest threat to Australia’s supremacy.
“Ben Ainslie’s team, the British, are strong and Jimmy’s team are going to be strong,” he said. “They’re probably the ones we have our eyes on, and Team New Zealand as well with Pete.
“They [New Zealand] had a really good day yesterday and I think every spectator is expecting them to jump up the fleet this season.”
Slingsby also isn’t taking SailGP newcomers Switzerland and Canada for granted.
“I was really surprised with the new teams Canada and Switzerland in training,” he added. “I thought they were really a surprise package.
“Their boat handling and boat speed were very good, and I guess they just got to get used to the racing and the starting.”
The Australians will begin the defence of their crown today as Season 3 launches in the Great Sound with the Bermuda Sail Grand Prix presented by Hamilton Princess.
They are placing their title on the line just weeks after winning the global sailing league for a second successive year, with victory over Japan and the US in the Grand Final in San Francisco in March.
“Obviously, we would have liked a bit more time to sort of relax and enjoy the moment,” Slingsby added. “But Season 3 is here and we are excited to get back into racing.”
Australia have certainly proved to be the benchmark in the first two instalments of SailGP, which Slingsby attributes to having retained the nucleus of the team over a substantial period of time.
“For me it’s probably keeping a solid team together for so long,” he said. “You see a lot of these teams have been changing their crew line-up and trying to find the right fit, and I feel like we found the right fit straight away. Most of our guys I have sailed with for ten years, so I knew that we were going to gel well together.
“Our team hasn’t really changed since the very first race of SailGP; we’re pretty much identical. So we have a lot of continued crew work and we know what the other ones are thinking, and that’s a big advantage in a fleet like this.”
Nine teams will be on the start line for the Season 3 opener, as Japan have been ruled out because of a lack of funding that has placed the future of the 2021 runners-up in doubt.
Britain are the defending champions in Bermuda. Helmsman Ainslie, the most decorated sailor with three Olympic and 11 world titles, already has his sights on the Season 3 Grand Final to be held in San Francisco in May 2023.
“I think the Australian team have proved the results do the talking; they are very, very good,” he said. “But when it comes down to that final race, I expect there will be a handful of teams that can make it into that final race, and any one of the finalists can win the race.
“So while the Australians certainly have been the outstanding team the last two seasons, everyone is chasing them. And I’m sure Tom would say the same that there’s no gimmes in this sport, particularly in a one-race sail-off [Grand Final] for a million bucks.”
The Bermuda Sail Grand Prix presented by Hamilton Princess consists of five qualifying fleet races, with the top three teams advancing to the winner-takes-all final.
All teams will earn points to count towards the overall championship.
Racing begins at 2pm today and tomorrow.