Ben Ainslie’s Great Britain SailGP Team won the opening event of SailGP Season 2 – the Bermuda Sail Grand Prix presented by Hamilton Princess – after winning the final winner-take-all three-way race against Tom Slingsby’s Australian team and Billy Besson’s French squad.
Up until that point season one champions Australia had been the dominant team having won four of the five races. Ainslie and his crew mates Luke Parkinson, Iain Jensen, Matt Gotrel, Neil Hunter and Richard Mason had struggled for form on the opening day, but they turned on the style when it mattered most, holding off Slingsby’s ever-challenging Australians to win the final race and with it the first event of the 2021-22 season.
Ainslie said: “It was a cracking race. It was awesome. It’s what we want to do it for; go against the top sailors in the world in conditions like this – it was perfect. It was a huge credit to the team, we really struggled yesterday, but we analysed what went wrong and today was a much better day and I am delighted with the result, it’s a great way to start the season.
Slingsby said: “It was a great race. We feel a little hard done by, as we sailed so well all week. But those are the rules – you’ve got to win that last race, and we were close but not quite there.”
Great Britain and Australia were joined by France in the final race, with Besson’s team – with the addition of Great Britain’s Leigh McMillan onboard – securing its first ever podium finish in SailGP.
Elsewhere, there were plenty of dramatic moments with the F50’s sporting the smaller 18-meter wing for the first time in the building breeze.
Newcomer to the fleet Jimmy Spithill, at the helm of the U.S. team, had a nerve-wracking collision with Nathan Outteridge’s Japan team in the first race of the day – that took both boats out for the remainder of the racing and also saw Spithill’s F50 on its side on the Great Sound shortly after the collision.
There was also a triple penalty for Phil Robertson’s Spanish team after a risky manoeuvre at the start of race five that perhaps cost the team its place in the final podium race, missing out by just one point.
America’s Cup winners and Olympic champions Peter Burling and Blair Tuke had a better day on their SailGP debut for New Zealand. Moving up from the bottom of the leaderboard after day one, to finish a respectable fifth place, just behind the Spanish team.
Nicolai Sehested’s Denmark SailGP Team presented by ROCKWOOL took sixth place. Japan and the United States sit at the bottom of the leaderboard after the day’s drama.
SailGP CEO Sir Russell Coutts said: “Quite simply that was the best racing I think I have ever seen on television for a sailing event. What a day, there was drama, fantastic quality of racing, lots of lead changes – it just had everything. Unfortunately it had a crash but you are going to get that in high level racing every now and then but it was really exciting stuff.
“I think it just showed again what a fabulous venue Bermuda is to run international sailing competitions and for a SailGP event, it is absolutely perfect. We missed the crowds due to the current pandemic but everyone saw what the racing was like and what a stunning backdrop Bermuda is and that’s the main thing. I couldn’t be more thrilled with Bermuda and we certainly want to come back for many years to come.”
The global league will now cross to Europe for the next five Sail Grand Prix events. Racing will continue in Taranto, Italy (June 5-6), Plymouth UK (July 17-18), Aarhus, Denmark (August 20-21), Saint-Tropez, France (September 11-12) and Cádiz – Andalusia, Spain (October 9-10) before moving to 2022 with races in Christchurch, New Zealand (January 29-30) ahead of the Grand Final in San Francisco, U.S. (March 26-27).
Season 2 leaderboard
1 Great Britain 10 points
2 Australia 9 points
3 France 8 points
4 Spain 7 points
5 New Zealand 6 points
6 Denmark 5 points
7 Japan 4 points
8 United States 3 points
Main image © Bob Martin/SailGP