Thoughts ahead of the Sail Grand Prix final
And why this week’s practice sessions have proved that it might not be as straightforward as we thought
It might not be the biggest prize in sport, but the $1million dollar, winner takes all race at the end of the SailGP has been the ultimate focal point for most of the second season.
As we got closer the answer as to who would be the front runners in the three boat dash for cash became clearer. So much so, that by the end of the penultimate event in Sydney, just before Christmas, the prospect of the final in March being a season ending crescendo was looking in doubt.
After Sydney, Tom Slingsby’s team had come out on top once again, guaranteeing themselves a place in the final with a total of 55 championship points.
Jimmy Spithill’s United States team may have had a tough season with a long string of problems, crashes and breakdowns, (several not of their own making either), but going into San Fran they had got themselves into second place overall. They had 53 points, ten ahead of the fourth placed Spanish team, ensuring that they too could have a crack at the big prize.
The only real question it seemed was whether Nathan Outteridge’s Japan Team could keep their noses clean in San Fran to keep their third place overall.
Their position looked all the more secure with the surprise news that driver Phil Robertston had left the Spanish team after a big internal disagreement.
The candid response from Spain SailGP Team CEO María del Mar de Ros when asked why he had left was, “The thing is that Phil, he feels he is superior in some sort of way, and that they [the crew] are kids. In fact, in one of the episodes [of Racing on the Edge] he was calling them ‘a bunch of kids’. Maybe if he felt more cohesion with the rest of the team, the decision would have been a bit different.”
In a video clip that’s been doing the rounds Robertson saw the situation rather differently and clearly felt pretty miffed that he had taken the team to front of the leaderboard on several occasions throughout the season and now was being dropped.
Even with this behind the scenes action to spice things up, if we’re frank, the overall build up to the Final was probably way off the climax that the organisers had hoped for.
But then the teams went afloat and whole picture started to change.
Jimmy Spithill’s team were the first to go for a swim in the Bay. Fortunately, no one was hurt and the boat wasn’t too badly damaged, but for Spithill to be the first to trip up on what has been his home patch for a long time was a big surprise.
Then it was heavy weather guru Tom Slingsby and his Australian team that crashed in practice on Thursday causing such serious damage to the wing that they couldn’t make it out for the practice race on Friday.
And when the practice races did kick off yesterday (Friday), the third top boat, Outteridge’s Japan team weren’t there either after breaking a rudder bar.
In fact, out of the top three, only Spithill was out racing but even then you had to look a long way down the field to find him during the racing. Something was up aboard the dark blue cat with an uncharacteristically poor performance throughout the day.
Meanwhile Ainslie’s newly branded British team scorched around the bay, dominated two starts to take two wins with a second place in the third race.
The message was clear, we might have thought that we knew what was coming but Friday proved otherwise.
The top three teams might have arrived in the States clear on points, but they’ve got to get through the next couple of days without breaking their boats and/or scoring penalty points. That’s easier said than done in San Fran. Backing off and playing it safe is not an option on an F50, plus they still need to be race sharp for the final match on Sunday, cruising around the bay is no way to prepare to go head-to-head with the world’s best.
And anyway, these teams aren’t wired that way, beating others at anything from sailing to shopping is in their DNA.
So, the first chapter of the final starts this evening (Sat) with racing starting at 1400 San Fran time and 2100 in the UK where you can see it live on Sky Sports and YouTube.
With the Six Nations now over and perfect evening timing what else had you got planned?