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Pitchpole in podium final for Great Britain SailGP Team in dramatic Spain Sail Grand Prix

by GBR SailGP Team 10 Oct 2021 12:04 PDT 9-10 October 2021
The Great Britain SailGP Team pitchpole in the final podium race at the Spain Sail Grand Prix © Bob Martin for SailGP

The second and final day of the Spain Sail Grand Prix in Cadiz-Andalusia brought a significant change in conditions, as 30-40KM/H gusts blowing from the city on the east met the Atlantic swell from the west, resulting in a dramatic course for high-octane SailGP racing.

Speaking ahead of racing, Great Britain SailGP Team CEO Ben Ainslie predicted the racing would be an 'all action war of attrition' and he was not wrong. The day's drama started even before racing, as Phil Robertson's Spain SailGP Team capsized in the pre-race warm-up, resulting in serious damage to the Spanish wingsail which meant they unfortunately had to pull out of their home Grand Prix.

Starting the day in fourth place, the British team knew strong results would be required to qualify for the 'winners-takes-all' podium race and Ainslie and his crew delivered. In the very tricky conditions, the Great Britain SailGP Team finished in second place in both opening races, with their F50 being expertly piloted throughout.

The moment of the day, however, came in the first reach of the final podium race between Ainslie's British team, Tom Slingsby's Australia SailGP Team and Jimmy Spithill's USA SailGP Team. After a perfectly timed start, the British team hit a gust on the first reach and stuck the bow in the water, resulting in a significant pitchpole at 70KM/H and the British F50 subsequently capsized.

Fortunately, both the crew and the British F50 were unharmed, as the team were quickly able to right the boat and even sail it back to shore. The Grand Prix was ultimately won by Slingsby's Australia SailGP Team. Speaking on the day's action and the team's third place finish in the Spain Sail Grand Prix Ben Ainslie said:

"That was a full-on day with really breezy conditions. The first two races were good. We had a nice start in the second race especially and two second place finishes which was solid to get us through to the final podium race.

"It was a great line-up with us, USA and Australia in that podium race. We had a great start again and managed to get into the lead and then halfway across the first reach we got hit by a mega gust and between myself steering the boat, Gooby [Iain Jensen] on the wing and Maso [Richard Mason] on the jib we just didn't get the trim and the balance of the boat right and stuck the bow in and managed to pitchpole it. That was massively frustrating as we'd done the hard bit with the start, it would have been a great race. It's a shame but we have to learn from it. We are improving our performance and we have the package to be competitive across the wind range, but we just have to eliminate some of these mistakes that are costing us.

"Having Hannah onboard this weekend was brilliant, she's such a star. She's an amazing sailor and a great team player. She fitted in naturally, was helping with the boat handling in the lighter airs and across all the conditions she was playing a big role tactically in helping me make some of the key decisions. It felt like a natural combination."

Hannah Mills, who raced onboard the British F50 for the first time this weekend added: "I had the best weekend. We are obviously disappointed with what happened with the final race, but it was awesome to be on the boat, contributing and learning. It's great to have this opportunity.

"The first couple of races today went really well, we were fast, making good decisions and had really good boat handling. We were confident going into that last race and executed the start well. We were blasting along that first reach and unfortunately things got a bit out of whack and in those conditions there's not much room for error. We will be coming back to Sydney looking to win."

The results of the Spain Sail Grand Prix leave the Great Britain SailGP Team in fourth on the overall Championship leaderboard, four points behind Spithill's USA team and Nathan Outteridge's Japan SailGP Team who are level on points in second and third respectively.

Race 4 - NZL WIN, GBR 2nd

A clear start in the opening race of the day saw Nicolai Sehested's Denmark SailGP Team lead at a dramatic first mark rounding as all teams flew down the first reach at very high speeds. At the first gate Ainslie's Great Britain SailGP Team was in fourth place and split the course rounding the opposite mark to the three leaders.

By the third gate Pete Burling's New Zealand SailGP Team had the lead, closely followed by Ainslie's British crew in second. Despite expertly controlled manoeuvres, with Great Britain's flight controller Luke Parkinson flying the boat right on the edge over 1M high for most of the race, the British were not able to chase down the New Zealand team. Pete Burling's New Zealand SailGP Team won the race, Burling's first SailGP race win, with the British finishing in second followed by the USA and Australia SailGP Teams.

Race 5 - AUS WIN, GBR 2nd

A perfectly timed run into the bottom entry for the Great Britain SailGP Team led to the British team leading at the first mark, closely followed by Outteridge's Japanese team and the France SailGP Team led by their new driver Quentin Delapierre.

It was neck-and-neck, high-octane racing throughout with several lead changes involving the British, French and Japanese teams. At the final rounding, however, it was Tom Slingsby's Australia SailGP Team who found a good wind shift and snuck inside of the Japanese and British boats at the mark to take the lead. A three-boat drag race ensued to the finish line, with the Australians taking the race win, the British finishing second and the Japanese finishing third.

Podium Race - AUS WIN, GBR 3rd

The final podium race saw another well-executed pre-start for the British team, as the Australian and American boats engaged with each other, with a penalty for USA, which gave the Great Britain SailGP Team space to perfectly time their entry and take the lead at the first reach.

As the three teams flew down to the first mark, however, a big gust hit the British boat. Ainslie, Iain Jensen and Richard Mason were seen visibly attempting to significantly trim the wingsail and jib to avoid disaster, but it was too late and the British F50 pitchpoled at 70KM/H and capsized. All crew were quickly accounted for and were unharmed.

Jimmy Spithill's USA SailGP Team, who were just behind the British F50 when it capsized, had to make a dramatic late manoeuvre to avoid a collision. That meant the American team were unable to bear away round the first mark and had to sail upwind first to get back on the proper course. That gave Slingsby's Australia SailGP Team a significant advantage, as they were over 1.5KM ahead of the Americans by the time they got back on course. The Australians did not let that significant lead slip and they took the race win, with the British finishing the event in third.

SailGP resumes in the Australia Sail Grand Prix on 17-18 December, where Ainslie's Great Britain SailGP Team will be looking to repeat the success of their last visit to Sydney in 2020.

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