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SailGP: Kiwis win heart-stopper in Dubai, move to third for Season 4

by Natalie Fortier 10 Dec 2023 18:52 PST 11 December 2023
New Zealand SailGP Team leads from Australia and Canada SailGP Team as they cross the finish line in front of the Race Stadium in the final on Race Day 2 of the Emirates Sail Grand Prix 10th December 2023 © Felix Diemer/SailGP

New Zealand has claimed victory on the Persian Gulf, at SailGP Dubai, after the closest three-boat final of the season.

With all three teams coming together at the final mark, a last-minute penalty denied Canada the win while New Zealand crossed the finish inches ahead of Australia. New Zealand has jumped from sixth to third in the season standings.

New Zealand driver Peter Burling said: “Foiling into the bottom mark, it was anyone’s game. We had a hard lock on the boat for about 20 seconds trying to make that turn, so it was an amazing job by the crew to pull off a good last jibe and give ourselves a shot.”

The finish was so close wing trimmer Blair Tuke said: “It was actually a bit subdued for us at the finish - we didn’t know we’d won at first, but when it was confirmed it was a huge moment for the team.”

Celebrating the team’s first final and first event win since the season opener in Chicago, Tuke continued: “This group has had a tough few months with a lot of ups and downs, so to finish off 2023 like this, it’s incredible.”

A decision to race on the 29-metre wing for the first time since Saint-Tropez created added complexity for the Kiwis heading into the day, said Tuke.

“The wing coming down in Saint-Tropez was a really tough moment for the team. Today was our first day back sailing with it, and of course that plays on our minds but we came out and showed how strong we are. This team has a huge amount of grit,” Tuke said.

Flight controller Andy Maloney echoed: “We’ve had our good events and our bad events with the 29-metre wing. This event, we fought really hard to stay in the hunt after rounding mark one in third. To get them [Australia, Canada] at the finish was no easy feat.”

New Zealand was on form throughout the weekend, picking up a second and fourth in the fourth and fifth fleet races of the weekend (consecutively) after a solid opening day on Saturday. With Emirates Great Britain disqualified at the start of race five, New Zealand sailed easily into the podium final.

Elsewhere, Jimmy Spithill - Australia’s substitute driver for the weekend - reflected on his SailGP journey, officially marking his retirement as an athlete in the league.

Spithill said: “I’m finished now as a SailGP athlete - that’s my last event - so it’s fitting in my mind because competing with Australia means I’ve come full circle. I love the fight, I love the competition, I love waking up and feeling nervous on race morning and being uncomfortable and getting out there under pressure - I love that stuff but at the same time, it’s time.”

With New Zealand back in the top three of the season standings, Tuke said: “This weekend is a huge plus for us, getting us a win on the board and right back in the hunt.”

The most exciting race on water returns to the United Arab Emirates next month, with a first-ever event in Abu Dhabi, 13-14 January GST.

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