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New drivers set to shake-up SailGP at Abu Dhabi debut event

by SailGP 12 Jan 07:50 PST 13-14 January 2024
Pre-event press conference in the Louvre Abu Dhabi Museum ahead of the Mubadala Abu Dhabi Sail Grand Prix presented by Abu Dhabi Sports Council © SailGP

SailGP has never been more competitive as it gets ready to kick off 2024 in style at the first ever Mubadala Abu Dhabi Sail Grand Prix presented by Abu Dhabi Sports Council on January 13-14 at Mina Zayed.

The league arrives in the capital city of the UAE for the first time having just witnessed the closest finish in its history in Dubai. At the final turning gate, New Zealand, Australia and Canada were side by side with the Kiwis awarded victory after a dramatic photo finish.

Abu Dhabi's SailGP debut will be an event full of firsts with the biggest news ahead of the seventh event of Season 4 involving the Emirates Great Britain SailGP Team. A costly disqualification in race five ruled them out of the final in Dubai. That will go down as Sir Ben Ainslie's last act as he has now stepped away as driver and in has come double Olympic gold medallist Giles Scott. Scott trained with the team in Dubai and looked sharp in practice racing in Abu Dhabi, winning the first race of the day.

Scott said: "I think it's a tricky spot to come in and take over the driver role halfway through a season and I certainly have a lot to learn and I've got to try and make that learning process as rapid as I can. The good news is I have an amazing team and crew and I'll be drawing on their experience and hopefully we can turn a few heads this weekend."

This change comes after Jimmy Spithill announced he would no longer be driving for the USA SailGP Team - after USA secured the biggest team sale in league history last November - and instead will start an Italian team in Season 5, allowing for the next generation of sailors to enter the spotlight.

When asked what the stepping down of both Ainslie and Spithill means for the next generation of athletes, current championship leader Slingsby - who returns to the league after the birth of his first son - said: "To be frankly honest, I think a lot of the younger generation haven't stepped up to the plate as much as they could have and they've got to prove it. Jimmy and Ben are in their mid 40s and still winning events consistently and the new, young generation, most of them haven't won an event yet. I guess I feel the next generation needs to show why they're the next generation of this fleet."

Another driver missing the action in Abu Dhabi this weekend is ROCKWOOL Denmark's Nicolai Sehested, due to being on paternity leave to welcome his second child. Taking his place in Abu Dhabi is the experienced two-time Olympic medallist Nathan Outteridge from the Switzerland SailGP Team. Dubbed the 'wind-whisperer', it might be a title that comes in handy this weekend with Abu Dhabi expecting light airs and training taking place with the 29 meter wing.

Outteridge said: "Nicolai has done a fantastic job leading the Danish team. You can see that everyone is confident in their abilities and skills, and they want to get on with the job. I just hope I remember how to drive the boat and do a good job this weekend."

Following the Dubai event, it was all change in the championship standings with New Zealand's victory placing it outright third behind ROCKWOOL Denmark. However, just like the racing, the standings remain as tight as ever with ten points separating Denmark in second and Quentin Delapierre's France in eighth.

The only consistency to remain is Australia sitting firmly on top - leading by 11 points without managing to secure an event win this season - but driver Slingsby has aspirational hopes for racing in Abu Dhabi.

Slingsby said: "You sound like a spoiled child when you're top of the leaderboard and you're not getting everything you want. We've got a big lead in the points score and we've got to be thankful for that. The win will come and hopefully it will come this weekend."

The inaugural Mubadala Abu Dhabi Sail Grand Prix presented by Abu Dhabi Sports Council also sees a first for SailGP's Inspire Program, Abu Dhabi will host the largest Inspire program ever delivered. Mubadala - who became the Global Partner of the SailGP's youth and community outreach program for Season 4 - has supported SailGP's efforts to champion STEM education and sport across all levels and throughout the event, 1,000 young people will be engaged through the program's Learning, Careers, and Racing pillars.

Building on the momentum of SailGP's Race For the Future takeover in Dubai - that coincided with COP28 - SailGP is once again demonstrating its commitment to climate action and inclusivity in Abu Dhabi. The SailGP Tech Site is 100 percent powered by clean energy, the Emirates Great Britain team hosted an all-female training session after a successful inaugural session in Dubai hosted by Switzerland and SailGP delivered a local impact project alongside Goumbrook to plant mangroves at Yas Beach. This weekend also sees SailGP host it's next Champions for Change thought leadership program.

Finally, SailGP makes history this weekend by combining its high-speed racing action with live music entertainment - global music superstars Take That join the global sporting league in Abu Dhabi for a special Saturday race day performance immediately following racing.

The Mubadala Sail Grand Prix presented by Abu Dhabi Sports Council gets under way at 2 p.m. local time tomorrow, January 13, and can be seen on Abu Dhabi Sports. For details on how to watch around the globe visit SailGP.com/watch. For fans in Abu Dhabi, limited tickets are still available to have a seat right in the heart of the action. Head to SailGP.com/AbuDhabi for more information and to secure a ticket.

MUBADALA ABU DHABI SAIL GRAND PRIX PRESENTED BY ABU DHABI SPORTS COUNCIL //

Day One Racing: Saturday, January 13, 2.00 p.m. - 3.30 p.m. GST
Day Two Racing: Sunday, January 14, 2.00 p.m - 3.30 p.m. GST

SAILGP SEASON 4 CHAMPIONSHIP STANDINGS (after six events) //

1 // Australia // 52 points
2 // ROCKWOOL Denmark // 41 points
3 // New Zealand // 40 points**
4 // Emirates GBR // 38 points
5 // United States // 35 points
6 // Spain // 33 points*
7 // Canada // 32 points***
8 // France // 31 points
9 // Switzerland // 15 points
10// Germany // 10 points****

*Spain SailGP Team docked two points in Season Championship for four-point penalty at Spain Sail Grand Prix | Andalucía-Cádiz
**New Zealand SailGP Team unable to compete in Taranto due to the structural failure of the team's wingsail at France Sail Grand Prix | Saint-Tropez
***Canada SailGP Team Docked four points in Season Championship for eight-point penalty at France Sail Grand Prix | Saint-Tropez
****Germany SailGP Team docked two points in Season Championship for four-point penalty at Oracle Los Angeles Sail Grand Prix

SAILGP SEASON 4 IMPACT LEAGUE STANDINGS //

1 // Australia // 223 points
2 // Switzerland // 209 points
3 // Emirates GBR // 198 points
4 // France // 196 points
5 // New Zealand // 194 points
6 // Germany // 185 points
7 // United States // 181 points
8 // Canada // 179 points
9 // ROCKWOOL Denmark // 179 points
10 // Spain // 168 points

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