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SailGP: New all-comers foiling speed record set in San Tropez, as Kiwis dominate again

by Richard Gladwell/ 10 Sep 2022 08:30 PDT 11 September 2022
France SailGP Team , New Zealand SailGP Team and Spain SailGP Team in action on Race Day 1 of the Range Rover France Sail Grand Prix in Saint Tropez, France © Bob Martin/SailGP

New Zealand again dominated the fifth SailGP regatta in Season 3, but stumbled in the second race, ending the series with two wins from three races.

The racing was sailed in the most extreme breeze yet seen in the current season with the skippers reporting a breeze of 30 kts (56kmh), but with some holes - testing the crews boat-handling. In the end it was the double America's Cup champions who were able to sail closer to the edge than the other crews.

Their millimeter perfect starts which have been a hallmark of the last two events, was only there for the final race of the day. It was the Kiwis ability to make the right course positioning calls, and sail at a greater level of intensity - without boat handling errors that got them through to a two point margin on the top of the leaderboard.

Winds were forecast to be 15-20kts from the west for Race 1. But the skippers reported 30knot winds midway through Race 1 and staying at that strength for the last two races. The F50's sailed with the 18metre rigs, high speed boards and small jibs. It was the first time for the fleet racing on the high speed boards - which proved to be critical in their handling by flight controllers, with any mistakes being heavily punished.

The home team, France, skippered by Quentin Delapierre thrilled their home crowd with a second in the final race, and setting new SailGP speed record just a click below the magic 100kmh (54kts) mark on the final leg of Race 3. That is the fastest speed recorded in racing by a foiler (AC72, AC75, AC50 or F50) in SailGP or the last three America's Cups. The previous mark was set by American Magic in the 2021 Prada Cup of 53.1kts

Race 1:

The Kiwis were unable to replicate their bullet-fast starts of Copenhagen, and crossed the start line a very safe last.

It was British team who led around Mark 1 with the boats hitting the over 48.6kts (90kms) on Leg 2.

Brits led around Mark 2 with NZL remarkably managing to close up to second and Australia third. The breeze increased to 24.3kts (45kmh) up wind with speeds of 35.1kts (65kmh). British increased lead on Leg 3 with the peloton fighting hard.

NZL trailed by 9 secs behind the Brits at Mark 3. Brits came off foils midway down Leg 4 coming to a stop but set record of 53.2kts (98.5kmh) - but retained led despite error. Australia moved through to second place.

Wind 24.3kts (45kmh) on Leg 5. AUS and NZL closed behind Brits, with Slingsby getting the lead down to single digit metres.

Around the final mark Ainslie was forced out to the right by Slingsby, who in turn was forced to jam up on the final mark to get around, meanwhile the Kiwis flew in splitting the angle between the two front runners and pushed the Australian crew as they went hard for the finish, with the Kiwis sailing at 28.1kts (52kmh) to Australia 18.9kts (35kmh).

Burling got underneath the Australians and luffed slightly. The Australians responded and did a nosedive at 48.6kts (90kmh) coming off the foils and to a stop as the Kiwis streaked away for a race win.

Jimmy Spithill recovered well from trailing the fleet on Leg 2, to be up to be in fourth place around the final mark and contested second place on the final leg sailing at just under 48.6kts (90kmh) battling with the Brits. The Australian crew were slipping back through the fleet having still not recovered. It was the Brits who took second place by a nose from USA. Australia were forced to sail directly downwind to make the finish line, dropping another place to the Spanish crew in 4th place, and only just heading off France at the finish to be fifth.

The British set a new SailGP record of 53.5kts (99kmh) breaking the former F50 speed record of 52.3kts (98.1kmh).

Slingsby most unhappy in the break after the incident saying he would have given the Kiwis the point if they wanted it so much, in the winds gusting to 30kts. The Australians suffered some damage in the incident and subsequent nosedive, with the shore crew on board trying to patch up the holes in fairings. In the opening salvo of what was to develop into a festering piece of sledging with NZ's helmsman Peter Burling, Slingsby initially told the SailGP commentary team that it was "unlikely" they would be able to race with the damage sustained in the nosedive incident, which he described as "something so stupid". We were just trying to get across the line safely in Race 1 of the series. We were getting luffed at over 50kts. We would happily have given him the position. We were just trying to cross the line - now we have all this damage, because Peter Burling wanted one extra point. It's ridiculous."

"We've got people out there who don't understand the risk for reward scenario and this happens. It's unfortunate," he added.

"We've got holes everywhere, if I'm being honest. Looking at all the fairing jobs, there is probably six or seven things we've broken, and that's before we've even gone through the technical things with the foils and hydraulics. We've got lots on here," Slingsby said.

The support crews must have performed miracles, as not only did the Australians go on to compete in the next race, but they had an emphatic win.

A replay of the incident showed Slingsby to windward of the Kiwis who were sailing fast to leeward, but were at risk of being overrun by the Australian who were turning down to the finish. Burling made a standard match racing response of slowly luffing up, maybe above a proper course to force the Australians as give way boat to keep clear. The Kiwis were given the room required by the Racing Rules, however the luff was not sharp, and the sudden nosedive appeared to be as a result of a flight control error.

At the conclusion of the racing USA skipper, Jimmy Spithill said all teams had control problems when the F50's hit 50kts and the small foils began to cavitate as the water boiled around the foil.

Cavitation is the sound barrier of foiling, occurring at high speed, when the water boils at point where water pressure is lowered beginning at the juncture of the foil with the water surface. The vaporising water allows air to travel down the underwater surface of the foil, rapidly destroying any control of lift and balance - with catastrophic effect. It is an issue which besets all foiling craft. While foiling speeds do increase rapidly up to the magic 50kts mark, beyond that point there only small incremental gains are possible unless the cavitation effect is minimised by shrewd designers.

Perhaps tellingly, the New Zealanders were the only team, across the three races, who seemed to be able to "red line" their F50 without a cavitation catastrophe.

Race 2:

All boats opted for a conservative start in the extreme conditions, not wanting to risk a premature start.

Jimmy Spithill took USA into the lead at Mark 1, but he was caught by Australia at Mark 2, who started to ease away on the left hand side of the course, crossing on port ahead of Spithill midway up Leg 3, with Denmark in third.

Australia led around Mark 4 sailing at 48.6kts (90kmh), with USA second, Denmark third and the Kiwis recovering to 4th, after taking the opposite side of the course to the leaders.

Slingsby eased away to a 100metres advantage or 6.5secs at Mark 4, with USA in a comfortable second. Denmark in third place was penalised but somehow retained third.

Around the final mark Slingsby had a a big lead which he held to the finish with USA second, and Denmark third.

In the closing stages of the penultimate leg, New Zealand copped two penalties against Canada, dropping back to 5th. However again Peter Burling and friends applied the pressure on the Canadians on Leg 6, in a replay of their tactic against the Australians in the previous race, sailed fast to leeward of the Canadians who came close to capsize as they luffed sharply, de-powering the wingsail to keep clear.

On the points table after two races USA and New Zealand were equal on 17pts with Australia third on 16pts and three points ahead of the Spanish crew on 13pts, with the British fourth on 11pts.

Between races the Brits reported a sheared bolt on the starboard foil, and again it was shore crew to the rescue, working frantically to repair the damage. Their endeavours were assisted by a couple of start postponements enabling a repair to be effected ready for the start of the final race of the day.

Race 3:

In contrast to the previous race, the start of the final race of the day was keenly contested with the boats hitting 48.6kts (90kmh) on Leg 1.

New Zealand executed their usual mid-line start judging the time on distance perfectly - but with USA doing even better to windward, getting an advantage of almost a boatlength off the start line. Spithill drove over the top of the Kiwis, Canadians and Australians to lead at Mark 1

But with a better sailing angle at the start of Leg 2, Tom Slingsby was able to power into the lead, below New Zealand with USA to windward. However it was then the Kiwis turn to return the Australian serve, as Burling just opened up and powered through to windward of the Australians, who dropped off their foils and handed the Kiwis the race lead.

To windward, USA was penalised for what looked to be a boundary penalty as they sailed out of the course, gearing up for a gybe in the 30kt breeze.

USA closed into second but got penalised again for what appeared to be a rounding infringement with Great Britain, who were the inside boat. Fortunately for Spithill, the peloton collectively botched the rounding with several coming off their foils during the turning maneuver.

Leg 3 developed into a procession led by the Kiwis, with the Brits second and USA in third initially, but in taking the same right hand side of the course as the Kiwis, and getting above their line, Spithill was able to work back into second and with starboard tack rights crossed ahead of the Brits midway up the leg.

By taking the right hand side of the course, Quentin Delapierre (FRA) was able to recover from sixth to be third at Mark 4, behind USA, and then split gybes fo the downwind. It was a move that paid a second place dividend for the home team - but still over 200metres behind the Kiwis.

Back in the poleton, Nathan Outteridge was having his best race yet on the helm of the Swiss entry, getting to leeward of Ben Ainslie (GBR) on the beat and extracting a penalty after the Brits, as windward and giveway boat were judged to have not kept sufficiently clear in the almost extreme conditions. The penalty initially cost the Brits two places, in the procession still led by the Kiwis, who led by a margin of 70 metres across the finish line, in the race which was just nine minutes long.

France hit a new record of 99.9km on the final furious reach to the finish, with the USA in third, and Ainslie recovering to be fourth.

New Zealand topped the leaderboard at the end of three races with 27pts, USA made a welcome recovery to be second on 25pts with Australia third on 20pts.

Racing continues on Sunday with three fleet races plus a Final for the top three Qualifiers. Winds are expected to be light.

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