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Slingsby completes return to form with Great Britain SailGP victory


North Sails

Tom Slingsby’s Australia SailGP Team celebrated its first victory of SailGP Season 2, being crowned event winners of the Great Britain Sail Grand Prix, as thousands of sun-drenched fans were also treated to a race win for the home team.

The Season 1 Champions were defeated by Great Britain in the final race of the Bermuda Sail Grand Prix presented by Hamilton Princess earlier this season, but got its revenge on British waters to make an astounding comeback, ultimately winning the event after a thrilling three-boat final between Australia, U.S and France.

Slingsby said: “We’re now three events in, we’ve had lead changes at each one with different people winning each time, and we’re just starting the rollercoaster. We’ve got plenty more turns ahead.

“We’ve come from close to the top of the leaderboard, to down at the bottom, and now we’re back at the top. There’s no form guide, every team has its day, and we’ve just got to hold on for the ride to try and make that Grand Final in San Francisco next March.”

Celebrating with his Australia crew members was an ecstatic Nick Hutton, the team’s grinder, who hails from Devon, UK.

Hutton said: “It’s always great to win and for me it’s extra special winning in Plymouth. It’s as close as I’m ever going to get to racing at home so I’m super happy. The last race was very hectic for us, we didn’t make it easy for ourselves, but it was great to get it done.”

The French team – driven by Billy Besson and with Brit Leigh McMillan onboard – was always in the hunt over the weekend and never out of the top three. After a nail biting final race – that saw multiple lead changes – they eventually took home the silver. With its second podium finish of the season, France has been consistently racking up the points to maintain a solid position among the top three overall leaders in the global championship.

Besson said: “We had a bad start during the first race and we know the starts are really important. The start in Race 5 was much better and we finished second, which meant we were able to qualify for the final. We were very happy to be there and we tried to win but it was a difficult race.

“We have learned a lot over the past few events. We’ll keep working to remain stable and stay in the mix. We’re in a good position and we hope to still be fighting at the front by the end of the season, we’re not here for nothing!”

After kicking off the season with two disappointing results due to sustaining damage to their F50 in both events to date, Jimmy Spithill’s United States SailGP Team took to the podium for a hard-fought third place finish in Plymouth.

Spithill said: “It was a good day because we made the final race again but unfortunately we had a bit of a technical issue on our starboard rudder that was deteriorating throughout the day. It was a good result for the team, given what had happened in the first two events. We’ve climbed our way up the leaderboard to mid-table and it’s very tight so we’re happy with that.

“Anytime you get to compete in the podium race it’s a great position to be in. The team sailed well all weekend and we’ve just got to keep doing that. We’ve got to keep putting ourselves in the position to win a Grand Prix.”

While the British could not qualify for the final podium race in front of its home fans, interim driver Goodison earned the loudest cheer of the day when his team crossed the finish line to win the fifth race of the weekend. Goodison, in his final event driving the British F50 before Ben Ainslie’s return to the wheel, signed off his SailGP stint with a fourth-place finish in Plymouth.

Goodison said: “That was a special day. It felt fantastic to cross the finish line in first place in front of our brilliant home support at the end. There was a lot of pressure to perform after yesterday and it was really impressive how the whole team rallied. There were so many positive vibes going out there this morning and then seeing all the fans and hearing all the noise coming from them on the water was just incredible.

“The team sailed very well. There are a bunch of really talented athletes on the boat and the team in the chase boat were incredibly supportive. For me, it’s been a great pleasure to have been involved in this team and I’m just thankful that we’ve given it back to Ben in a similar shape to what I took it off him. That’s a big relief.”

Over the weekend, SailGP has worked closely with Plymouth City Council to ensure fans have been able to safely enjoy the high-octane action from the shore and on-water.

Leader of Plymouth City Council, Councillor Nick Kelly, said: “All I can say is – wow! What an absolutely incredible weekend in Britain’s Ocean City. The atmosphere along the waterfront was electric and Plymouth Sound really has made a fantastic stage for the Great Britain Sail Grand Prix.

“Not only that, but the week leading up to SailGP has seen so many people in Plymouth getting involved and engaging with the ocean, including STEM sessions for school children and free sailing experiences for young people and people with disabilities, which is amazing.”

SailGP CEO Sir Russell Coutts said: “The crowds were loving it. I went for a walk during the race to see what the reaction was and they were really engaged. I think Plymouth should be really proud of the event here. They really did deliver a magnificent event. One that I will certainly remember for a long time.”

Speaking on the quality of racing in Plymouth, Coutts added: “The format works really well and now the teams are getting more and more competitive the racing is getting better and better.

“The three-boat final I think is a massive success. We saw that today, there were lead changes and it was on the whole way round. It is very difficult to know what the outcome is going to be and that creates great sport, great competition and great interest. I think it’s a real step forward for the sport.”

Preparing for the fourth event of the season, SailGP turns its attention to Aarhus, Denmark where driver Nicolai Sehested and the Denmark SailGP Team will play host for the first time at the ROCKWOOL Denmark Sail Grand Prix, August 20-21.

Sehested said: “It’s going be fantastic to race in front of our home crowd in Aarhus. It’s going to be a great event, hopefully with good winds and good sailing. In terms of pressure it doesn’t change much, we want to perform at every event, but we are really going to enjoy sailing in front of our home fans and family.”

Focused on making constant improvements, the Danish team finished off the weekend with a third place finish in the last fleet race, to finish fifth on the leaderboard. Japan, New Zealand and Spain completed the Great Britain Sail Grand Prix leaderboard in sixth, seventh and eighth positions, respectively.

Following Denmark, the league will complete its final two European events in Saint-Tropez, France (September 11-12) and Cadiz-Andalusia, Spain (October 9-10) before heading to the Southern Hemisphere for the Sydney Sail Grand Prix, December 17-18, to finish off 2021. Racing picks up again in the new year starting in Christchurch, New Zealand (January 29-30), and the Grand Final in San Francisco, U.S. (March 26-27).

Great Britain Sail Grand Prix // Plymouth

1 // Australia

2 // France

3 // United States

4 // Great Britain

5 // Denmark

6 // Japan

7 // New Zealand

8 // Spain

SailGP Season Championship leaderboard (after 3 events):

1 // Australia // 22 pts

2 // Great Britain // 22 pts

3 // France // 21 pts

4 // United States // 19 pts

5 // Japan // 19 pts

6 // Spain // 19 pts

7 // Denmark // 17 pts

8 // New Zealand // 17 pts

Main image © Bob Martin/SailGP