‘Flawless’ Australia set standard for SailGP Season 3
Two-times champions Australia made the perfect start to their SailGP title defence after storming to victory in the season-opening Bermuda Sail Grand Prix presented by Hamilton Princess in the Great Sound yesterday.
Tom Slingsby’s team hit top stride when it mattered most to win the winners-take-all final sail-off convincingly against defending regatta champions Great Britain and debutants Canada.
The close racing in the final many had hoped for never materialised as the flawless Australians seized early control and never looked back while their rivals battled for second far behind in their wake.
“We were second here last year to Ben Ainslie’s team [Great Britain] but finally we cracked it and won,” an elated Slingsby told The Royal Gazette. “We’re off to a great start for Season 3, so we’re stoked.”
The Australians went into the final with momentum and high on confidence having won the final fleet race to top the qualifying standings.
“I keep telling people we are confident sailors and once we’re confident we’re off,” Slingsby added. “It’s kind of the natural progression for us; if we know we are sailing well, we are going to be hard to beat in the next race.
“The last two races to secure our spot in the final we nailed. And then we got in the final and we just sailed a flawless race, so we came good at the right time.”
The Australians got their tactics spot-on as they remained in the pressure throughout the race to stay up on the foils and maintain superior boat speed.
“Our guys and girl did an amazing job,” Slingsby added. “Tasha Bryant was on the back and did an amazing job today calling where the pressure was, where people we making gains on the racetrack. The whole squad I just know when the pressure is on they are going to perform.”
Bryant, the tactician, explained the conditions worked to her team’s advantage.
“It was perfect conditions on the course for us,” she said. “We knew we had speed, so it was just all about getting clear off the start and making sure we had smart sailing from there.
“We have had a great time here and so a very nice lead into the event and obviously it’s amazing to take away with the win.
“It was an awesome start and we could not have asked for anything more. I can’t wait for the rest of the season to see what it brings.”
The British came up just short of retaining their title and had to settle for second this time around.
Sir Ben Ainslie’s team were forced to play catch-up after a poor start as Australia and Canada engaged in a match race ahead of them.
“We had a really bad start,” Ainslie said. “We had an approach we wanted to gybe and stay on the foil and come over the line a bit late.
“With only three boats we figured there would be space and it might be an opportunity against the other two. But we made a mess of the gybe, so we fell off the foil and then we were late from there on in.
“It was really our error and cost us a lot, so that was really frustrating.”
Ainslie and his team-mates did well to reel in and pass Canada on the second downwind leg and cover them the rest of the way to hold on to their position.
“I was proud how the team dug in and got past Canada and then made some inroads towards Australia,” Ainslie added.
“Australia sailed a fantastic final race and deserved to win, and also I was really impressed by Canada. First race in SailGP and come away with a third overall is an incredible performance.
“It’s been a great week of racing; great for SailGP to be back here in Bermuda.
“Fantastic conditions and I don’t think you could ask for anything better. Love the experience and looking forward to coming back next year.”
Phil Robertson, the Canada helmsman, said his team’s superb debut in the global sailing league exceeded expectations.
“We didn’t expect to be in the final, that’s for sure,” he said. “But we sailed really well yesterday and sailed fairly good today as well.
“It’s a good place to be when you’re sort of coming in as a new team and sail out of your skin and make the final, so we are happy.
“It was a great start for the team and we’re obviously pretty thrilled to be where we are sitting.
“It’s going to boost the confidence. It’s good to confirm that you’re sort of going down the right track with what you’re doing with setting up the team and the learning process.
“We did not perform as well as we wanted to in the final. But we got a great start and took it to the two top teams and came away with third, so happy days.”
Among the teams failing to live up to expectations were New Zealand, whose victory in the penultimate qualifying fleet race was not enough to secure a spot in the final.
“It was definitely an up-and-down event for us,” helmsman Peter Burling said.
“We felt we were sailing really well in the practice and definitely made some massive steps forward to where we had been. But we could not quite put it together on that first day, which was a bit frustrating.
“We had a really good race today and knew we had a lot to do to get into the final and try and get a few boats between one of us and top three. So we took a bit of a risk in that last one and it did not quite work out.”