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Small margins and close calls on the opening day of the Spain Sail Grand Prix

by GBR SailGP Team 9 Oct 2021 12:11 PDT 9-10 October 2021
The Great Britain SailGP Team racing on the British F50 in Cadiz-Andalusia © Javier Salinas for SailGP

Photo finish, penalties and points on the board for Great Britain SailGP Team as racing got under way in Cadiz at the Spain Sail Grand Prix. Ben Ainslie's British team ended the day in fourth place, level on points with Denmark SailGP Team in third and Japan SailGP Team in fifth.

The first day of racing saw light wind conditions, with the teams using the big 29M wings and racing with six athletes onboard for the first time ever (four athletes in light wind conditions), with the sixth sailor position being occupied by each team's athlete from SailGP's Women's Pathway Programme. Double Olympic champion Hannah Mills joined the team onboard the Great Britain SailGP Team.

The light, shifty conditions led to a rollercoaster of a day for the British team, who took the opening race win with a tense race to the line with Tom Slingsby's Australian team. GBR finished seventh in the second race, after a close penalty for crossing the start line early. With the crews reduced to four for the final race, as the breeze dropped, Ainslie's crew finished the third race in fourth, meaning the team position in fourth place overall ahead of tomorrow's final day of the Grand Prix. Speaking after the day's action Ben Ainslie said:

"It was a tricky, up and down, first day. We won the first race and had a great tussle with the Aussies, just pipping them to the line. Our second race was tough, we were probably a foot over the line which is pretty terminal for your race in these light airs. In the final race we were in the mix, but got swallowed up a bit at the first mark. We had a bit of a charge into the finish but ran out of time so finished fourth. We are in the mix, tomorrow will be really important for us. We're expecting more breeze so we're looking forward to getting the F50s powered up to speed".

Commenting on her first day of SailGP racing Hannah Mills added:

"It was awesome. Light, tricky conditions which meant it was tough tactically, but I loved being onboard and getting stuck in. I learned so much between each race that I could put into the next race. My role stayed similar throughout, apart from when I had to do the odd bit of grinding when there was just four of us on the boat! I'm mostly focussed on the tactics and strategy. It's a role I love and a role that I believe I'll get better at the more I do. This type of racing is different to what I'm used to, so I am learning so much every single race."

Race 1 - GBR WIN

With Hannah Mills onboard with the team for her first ever SailGP race, the British team targeted the bottom entry at the start, which would give the team the shortest route to the first mark. Ainslie and his team timed it perfectly, rounding the first mark in second place behind Tom Slingsby's Australia SailGP Team.

After a tight race, with Mills clearly audible on the team comms calling the shifts in the patchy conditions in her new tactical role, the British and Australian teams led throughout, crossing the final fourth gate neck-and-neck.

A thrilling final leg ensued, with Slingsby's Australian crew leading at the first cross with starboard advantage. By the second cross, however, Ainslie's team had a 50M lead, with both teams looking to make one more manoeuvre to make the lay line to the finish.

As both teams raced to the final gate, it was almost too close to call, with the Great Britain SailGP Team just taking the race win by one second in an exhilarating photo finish.

Race 2 - ESP WIN, GBR 7th

With the wind continually dropping, the second race took place in marginal foiling conditions. Ainslie's British team opted for a similar start strategy which paid dividends in the opening race, but on this occasion just timed it wrong, crossing the start line 0.5 of a second early.

That meant the British F50 had to drop to the back of the fleet, and were quickly given a second penalty at the first mark for not sailing a proper course whilst attempting to take their first penalty.

In the end, it was Phil Robertson's Spain SailGP Team which took a home race win, despite only foiling for under 40% of the race, in front of a record spectator fleet of 1500 vessels which including the King of Spain, King Felipe VI. Ainslie's crew finished in a disappointing seventh place.

Race 3 - USA WIN, GBR 4th

With crews reduced to four to improve the team's chances of foiling the marginal conditions, it was a clear start for all teams, with Slingsby's Australian SailGP Team leading the pack at the first mark, and Ainslie's British crew in fourth place.

Every F50 dropped off of its foils as the teams took their first gybes on the second leg, indicating just how light it was. Slingsby's Australian crew were the first back on the foils, however, which gave them a big gain.

As the course was shortened to four legs, it was a tight race between Jimmy Spithill's USA SailGP Team, Sehested's Danish crew and Slingsby's Australians on the final fourth leg. Ainslie and the British crew were in fourth place.

Smart tactical calls by Spithill and his crew on that final leg meant they were able to leapfrog Slingsby's Australians and take the lead and the race win. The Great Britain SailGP Team finished where they crossed the first mark, in fourth place.

With conditions forecasted to be very different in the second day, including 25KM/H wind and gusts up to 44KM/H, everything remains to play for in the Spain Sail Grand Prix. The British team go into the second day knowing strong results will be required in the fourth and fifth races to qualify for the final 'winner-takes-all' podium race.

The action resumes live on Sky Sports from 15:30PM BST on Sunday October 10 and is also free to view on SailGP's YouTube channel. For full viewing details visit SailGP.com/watch.

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