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Australia SailGP Team faces minor difficulties, yet worthy opponents

by Australia SailGP Team 4 May 19:41 PDT May 4-5, 2019
Team Australia helmed by Tom Slingsby bury their port bow through a tack. Race Day 1 Event 2 Season 1 SailGP event in San Francisco, California, United States. 04 May © Chris Cameron for SailGP

The start of San Francisco SailGP, a much anticipated supercharged wingsailed catamaran event, occurred under idyllic racing conditions. The adrenaline pumping sailing event is part of the newly formed SailGP and U.S. fans could not have been more in awe after watching three races occur just hundreds of metres from shore.

SailGP's inaugural event in Sydney this past February, dazzled Sydneysiders, who are now looking at the prospect of being home to yet another successful sports team representing the green and gold. Australia SailGP Team took home an overall Event 1: Sydney win, and look to make the same statement in San Francisco. But technical difficulties have so far kept the team from hitting an early stride.

Days before the official start, the team suffered some internal damage to it's incredibly intricate 24m carbon fiber wing while out training. These structures are incredibly intricate c requiring a separate shore team to assist with nightly maintenance. The physics behind how these boats are able to lift out of the water is similar to an airplane, yet the feeling is unlike any Qantas flight you've ever traveled on. "It's like driving a car on a trampoline -- you don't notice how fast you are going because you're lifted out of the water, then you look over and you're like oh god, I'm up there!" laughs a member of the technical shore-team, Ted Hackney.

The wings damage was caused by an issue common to many boats sailing here: the windy and wavy San Francisco conditions. As the breeze increases, so does the load on various parts of the wing, causing breakages to chains that help control the wing flaps, just like an airplane. Being able to control it correctly all relates to managing power, a crucial element for control.

Australia SailGP Team came into the day feeling level-headed, sailing the F50 in Race 1 true to its abilities, hitting top speeds of 47 kn (87km/h). While in the lead on the last leg of the first race, the Aussies realized their wing was experiencing internal breakage, kicking them from first, and almost lost them a secure second-place finish in front of the British.

"Unfortunately we broke our wing in Race 1. We broke the twist, which means we weren't able to put the boat in the right mode moving forward. It didn't slow us down too much, but it just meant we couldn't mode the boat upwind and downwind," notes helm Tom Slingsby.

Because of the catamaran's broken wing the team couldn't shift modes—like changing gears in a racing car—and were forced to push through in fast mode. This made completing manoeuvres on the course, like tight roundings, extremely difficult.

As well as these technical difficulties, Japan also proved a worthy opponent. Skipper and fellow Australian Nathan Outteridge is a rocket ship, smashing all three races and winning the day. Great Britain, helmed by Olympian Dylan Fletcher, also proved a critical contender on the day, taking two third-place finishes, and one second, consistently nipping at Australia and Japan's heels.

"At the end of the day, Team Japan beat us because they are having better starts... their slingshot method apparently seems to work," laughs helm Tom Slingsby, who remains upbeat about the prospects leading into tomorrow's racing.

"After the first reach and run, Team Japan weren't getting away from us ever, and it felt like we could actually catch 'em up if we wanted to, so we sailed well, but they're getting ahead of us on the start and they're maintaining that lead. So, we've got to do a better job of leading at mark one, and if they're behind us, I think they'll struggle to beat us."

Competitors since childhood, these two drivers are no strangers to being neck-in-neck. A current two-point spread on the San Francisco Leaderboard shows that with the challenging conditions of San Francisco, as well as the caliber of sailing these athletes can produce -- it will truly come down to who can make the fewest mistakes, or who can best capitalize on their opponents.

Coverage is shown locally: Monday, May 6 on Fox Sport 507 & Kayo, 05:30 - 07:00 AEST (Check local listings).

LIVE on Kayo. Visit www.kayosports.com.au to sign up.

SailGP App: Supplementary video and data; full race replay (24 hours post-event).

Facebook @SailGP: Full race replay (24 hours post-event).

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