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Kiwis win first SailGP Final almost a decade on from their first Olympic Medal win.

by Richard Gladwell/ 31 Jul 2022 07:21 PDT 1 August 2022
New Zealand SailGP Team celebrate winning Great Britain Sail Grand Prix on Race Day 2 of the Great Britain Sail Grand Prix | Plymouth in Plymouth, England. 31st July 2022 © Ricardo Pinto/SailGP

The Peter Burling and Blair Tuke-led NZSailGP team won their first ever SailGP Final, dominating two of three tense races on Devon's Plymouth Sound.

In scenes reminiscent of several days in the last America's Cup regatta, the Kiwis struggled in difficult wind pressure as the F50s dropped on and off their foils, requiring careful boat positioning on the race course.

Their SailGP win came almost a decade after the duo won their first Olympic medal in the 49er class, on August 8, 2012, at the Weymouth Olympic Regatta, in Dorset, also on England's southern coast.

Sailed in a fickle breeze, the racing, aside from controversial penalties, was primarily determined by the teams' ability to seque between the various patches of more substantial wind pressure.

The strange sight of one competitor sailing at 26kts (50kmh) while another close by was off the foils and sailing at 8kts (15kmh) was not uncommon.

After being the overnight points leader, the Kiwis got off to a bad start in Race 4, the first of the day, when they were penalised for an infringement 30 seconds before the start.

That required them to drop behind the Swiss, who were very slow to cross the line, eventually doing so in 7th place with the Kiwis 8th.

Race 4 start was the least contested of the series, with only three boats hitting the start line together before setting off down Leg 1. The pre-start penalty for the Kiwis and the laggardly start by the Swiss and most of the fleet gave the front three a massive head start over the six boats in the peloton.

There was little changing of positions outside the top three, with Great Britain, Denmark and Australia finishing in that order to take advantage of the Kiwi's penalty plight, which reduced their points margin on the leaderboard.

The Kiwis gave themselves some breathing space moving up to 5th - but the pressure was on, with no room for another error.

Tricky start and deciding penalty - Race 5

The start of the second race of the day, Race 5, was delayed after the Australians required a rudder replacement - which was achieved on the water in just ten minutes - a remarkable performance by the support teams.

A big windshift before the start of Race 5 triggered some quick re-thinking of starting strategy to incorporate the need to hit the line on time while foiling at full speed in the marginal foiling breeze.

The Kiwis again got their time on distance right and emerged the best of a clump of boats at the Committee boat end, with Australia pacing them to leeward, with both boats off their foils and struggling to get to the 18kts (35kmh) speed to achieve foiling. New Zealand led at Mark 2, but then the lead and placings see-saw that was to typify the rest of the racing came into play.

While it was possible to find wind pressure and get foiling, the tacks and gybes were the telling points, and most dropped off their foils when cornering.

That meant the race turned into a contest of puddle-jumping between the wind pressure areas and minimising the cornering.

Race 5 was shortened to four legs, with the New Zealanders having the race under control on the final leg, with Denmark in second - with both teams going through to their first SailGP Final.

There was an intense battle for the final berth in the three-boat Final between the old rivals and former America's Cup teammates, Tom Slingsby (AUS) and Ben Ainslie (GBR).

In the end, the race was decided on the final cross before the finish when the two boats intersected. Ainslie on port gybe was the give way boat and in the Umpires' view did not keep clear of the flying Australians. Chief Umpire Craig Mitchell penalised the Brits, who had to hang back and wave the Australians across the finish line before themselves finishing in 4th place and being excluded from being part of a Home Final.

Kiwis win tense Final

The three-boat Final looked set for Tom Slingsby (Australia) to do what he has done so many times before - make the cut for the Final as the third qualifier and then go on to dominate and snatch the winner takes all Final, and the trophy awarded to the series winner.

In a between races interview, Slingsby commented that the breeze was very soft in the start area. This phenomenon is not uncommon in SailGP Finals, which usually are sailed close to shore. In previous events, the Final has been determined on Leg 1.

However, this was not to be as the Kiwis again won the start with some very precise time on distance judgement. For once, Slingsby was out of the picture, and the two first-time finalists arm-wrestled each other looking for supremacy down the first two Legs.

Australia tacked early after Mark 1, taking the opposite side of the course to the Danes and Kiwis, but they came off their foils in what was to be a series of potentially race-ending speed and foiling issues for all three competitors.

Denmark led at the second mark - with the Kiwis and Danes coming off their foils - opening the door for a prowling Slingsby.

The Kiwis looked to be gone as their speed dropped to 6kts (11kmh) on the far right-hand corner, which the Danes went more left, with the Australians doing well in the hard left corner.

But as has happened several times in the two days of racing, the Kiwis made the right call and came flying up the right-hand lay line in good pressure, hitting 28kts (53kmh). The Danes initially came across with their speed at just 8kts (15kmh) until they also got into the same pressure and windshift as the Kiwis.

For the remainder of the race, it was a "simple" matter of staying in pressure, keeping foiling, and only gybing in pressure.

The windshift meant that the final leg to the finish - supposed to be a flying fast foiling reach, required the Kiwis to tack to make the finish line.

Inevitably they came off the foils soon after making their final tack, but their margin was such that they got through the last metres of the regatta to take their third win from six races and win their first SailGP Final.

Having got that monkey off their backs, the Kiwis looked back to see the Danes and Australians struggle with the same finish approach dilemma. The Kiwis watched in relief as SailGP's smiling assassin, Tom Slingsby, gave Nicolai Sehested (DEN) the coup de grâce on the Final leg. Australia placed second in the Final, with Denmark third.

Making the Final, like the Kiwis, was the best yet performance by the Danes, who will have their confidence up for the next SailGP event on their home waters in Copenhagen on August 19-20.

For full results

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