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SailGP USA score their first SailGP Event win on a slow day in Saint-Tropez

by Richard Gladwell/ 11 Sep 2022 05:59 PDT 11 September 2022
Race Day 2 of the Range Rover France Sail Grand Prix in Saint Tropez, France. 11th September © David Gray/SailGP

SailGP USA scored their first SailGP Event win on a slow day in Saint-Tropez, and a completely different breeze from the frenetic Day 1.

While Saturday saw the nine-boat fleet sailing in the strongest winds experienced of the five events sailed to date in Season 3.

The record books will show that Saint-Tropez, one of the fastest five SailGP events, sailed so far. But it was also one of the slowest, as both races on Day 2 were over shortened courses. One race was cancelled, and the other failed to make the time limit.

"What a great overall result for the team," was skipper Jimmy Spithill's reaction to their first-ever win. "This event was some of the toughest sailing I've done in these boats."

Race 4:

A light sea breeze prevailed before the start - 8km gusting 15km. Only a few teams had managed to foil before the race, which was sailed with the towering 29-metre rigs.

All boats crossed the line in displacement mode, with the Kiwis at the leeward end of the line and least distance to sail.

The F50s needed to reach a speed of 18kts (33kmh) to get foiling - but the top speed achieved on Leg 1 was just 13.5kts (25kmh).

A group climbed out to windward, looking for more pressure to generate vital apparent windspeed, but lucked out and had to gybe early to get down onto the lay line for the mark.

The Kiwis, winners of the last two Events, led at Mark 1 - having sailed the shortest distance at a slower speed. USA was shown as catching NZL on Leg 2, but the Kiwis worked up to windward and closest to shore, looking for the breeze, and found it - with the Kiwis being the first to get foiling with the jumping to 24.8kts (46kmh).

They got back up on the foils in the final approach to Mark 2 but couldn't keep foiling astern of the USA, and their speed dropped to 10.3kts (19kmh). The other teams, led by the Swiss, took a different approach, rounding the left-hand gate and staying foiling without the need to tack. The fleet split with USA and NZL on the right-hand side and the rest on the left. The USA had a lead of 75metres over Kiwis sailing at 12.42kts (23kmh) - well below foiling speed. The left-hand group kept their lead as the other group came across, with the USA doing a bear away around the windward Mark 3, keeping it simple and maximising speed and the all strong apparent wind.

The course of only four legs was reduced in length as the lead boats rounded Mark 3, chasing a course time limit of 14 minutes.

The Swiss in third place were the first to get foiling. However, the USA had the race in the bag, squeezing across the finish line to take the win with just a few seconds to spare. Behind the USA, it was unclear if the Swiss had finished within the time limit. The Kiwis were in third and struggling to match the speed of the Swiss.

In a bizarre finish, the winner, the USA, was known, but it was not immediately declared whether the Swiss finishing position of second would be counted or if the results of the race would be determined by their rounding position at the previous mark - in which case the Kiwis would be second and the Swiss third.

The result extended the lead of New Zealand and the USA, from Day 1 to 36pts and 35pts respectively, with the British back in third on 26pts, with France on 25pts, and Australia on 24pts - and with potentially two fleet races left before the three boat final.

Race 5:

AUS and NZL managed to get log-jammed at the pin end of the start line as the rest of the fleet sailed through to windward. Both Burling and Slingsby managed to start without penalty, as the rest of the fleet continued to move to windward, looking for the breeze and more speed but sailing a longer distance. Canada went through the middle of the fleet and rounded Mark 1 in the lead, followed by Spain, with Denmark in third place and Australia fourth.

On Leg 2, the breeze picked up to 6.75kts (12-13kmh), with the Canadians only able to get up to 14kts (26kmh) - well short of the supposed take-off speed.

The gains of the leaders were lost as they gybed for Mark 2, but Canada managed to retain their lead. Turbulence became a big issue for the peloton around a congested Mark 2 - with the USA emerging with a penalty from Denmark - dropping the USA back to last with the Danes in 8th.

Canada took the shoreside, leading up the sea wall crowds and hitting a speed of 11.34kts (21kmh), and with no one able to get foiling on the windward leg.

Adding to the interest, the two points table leaders USA and NZL were at the back end of the fleet going into Mark 3 and chasing the 14-minute time limit.

The placings around Mark 3 were CAN, ESP, GBR, AUS and USA in 7th and NZL last. Australia got foiling halfway down the leg.

Again only one (CAN) and maybe - GBR appeared to make the finish within the time limit. But the line judge's call was that Canada had missed crossing the finish line within the time limit, and the whole race was terminated - leaving the points after Race 4 as being the current standings.

Then came the decision that the Race Committee had decided to cancel the final fleet race, which put New Zealand, the USA and Great Britain through into the three-boat Final. The decision was also taken to reset the course, indicating that there was a major shift and maybe an increase in pressure was in play.

Final Race

The race course location was moved down to the location of the old Mark 2, with seemingly more breeze on offer - enabling the Kiwis and Great Britain to get foiling ahead of the start while the three-boat fleet waited for the sea breeze to stabilise as the course was set up.

Maybe in a portent for the race ahead, the F50s could get foiling in a straight line - building apparent wind to get to two or three times wind speed but losing it all on the corners and dropping back to a slow displacement mode.

The breeze was hitting 7kts (12-14kmh) during the countdown - sufficient for the crews to get foiling on Leg 1 at least. Unfortunately, it faded down to 6kts (11kmh) before the start.

Burling made his now standard start, got foiling, but was a touch too early, pushed high by the British to add to their woes, and got squeezed across the start line early and penalised.

The USA led from Great Britain, with the Kiwis in third after clearing their penalty.

All three boats ended the leg in displacement mode, with Burling edging past Ainslie, as Spithill got around first and took advantage of a slow rounding by the Brits and Kiwis.

After tacking close to the boundary on Leg 3, USA looked to have the race under control as they moved into a building pressure, but still not enough to get foiling.

The good news for Spithill came with the announcement that the race would finish at the end of Leg Four and that the course would be shortened. Burling chased hard sailing at 9.2kts (17kmh) - still not enough for foiling.

The Kiwis and Brits both tacked at the top of the course. They headed back towards the pressure on the seawall, as USA crossed the course to cover, emerged with a 100-metre lead, and briefly got foiling before making his gybe, as the Kiwis tried their last roll of the dice to cut the corner on USA and sail-over to windward.

However, the USA had the leg under control and gybed for the line, taking their first event win, sailing at displacement speed.

Australia continues to lead the Season 3 points with 42pts, followed by New Zealand on 41pts and Great Britain third overall on 34pts, despite having sailed one less event.

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