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Tom Slingsby was lucky - Or was he?


Viewed in isolation, Tom Slingsby’s Australia Team got lucky in the dash-for-cash final race of SailGP’s Season 2.

Sitting at the windward end of the start line meant that they were first to get the gust that was rolling off the shore. Unsurprisingly, they were first onto their foils, doubling, tripling and more the speed over their rivals Team Japan and Team USA who were stuck in a windless hole, waiting for the breeze to arrive.

Up and running the Aussies charged into the first mark extending their huge lead by the second during which time any SailGP statistician would have told you that in over 70% of cases the boat that gets to the first mark first in SailGP, goes on to win the race.

As you probably know already, they did and ended the day $1million better off.

They were lucky.

Or were they?

Draw back and take a broader look at the eight event season and Slingsby and Co have won five of them and come second in a sixth. That’s not luck, that’s a dominant performance in anybody’s book.

Yet, interestingly when they weren’t concluding their event on the podium they were last on the leader board. It’s harder to know what to say about that.

But the reality is surely that Tom Slingsby knows how to win, not just when it’s going his way and breezy, but when it’s light, shifty, tricky and unpredictable. And that’s seriously impressive when you’re up against the long list of rock stars that now form the SailGP roll call.

It’s also impressive when you consider that San Francisco on Sunday delivered conditions that few, if anyone had seen before with the Southerly breeze sweeping over the city and hitting the water in bullets of pressure that not only pulsed wildly in strength, but swung erratically in direction.

I’m told that in all the years that Jimmy Spithill lived, raced and trained there he had only seen a southerly once. Few if any of the other skippers could match let alone better that. If nothing else it was the biggest curve ball of the season delivered at the most inconvenient time at a venue that is famous for its steady and reliable breezes.

Anyone who has been fortunately enough to have sailed at some of the world’s best and most reliable venues will have stories that end in being told by the locals that, ‘it’s not normally like this.’ Sunday in this corner of California was one of those days.

So, Slingsby wins the big bucks for the second time and demonstrates just how far ahead his team is when it comes to settings, changing gear and generally adapting.

I’ve been spending the last few days producing a TV review show for the event in which we have trawled through hours and hours of comments, interviews and press conferences, listening to skippers and crew talk about this event and life on the SailGP circuit. One of the points that comes across clearly is how comfortable the Australians are with understanding what makes an F50 tick.

Overall though when you look at the end of the Sail GP season it’s hard not to draw comparisons with the dramatic end to last year’s F1 season when the safety car issue changed the course of the race and the championship title. In our case its not about the decisoion of an official but of the response of a team.

It’s also intriguing that even with open access to reams of data, the Aussies’ competitors still haven’t managed to decode and replicate their performance. This in itself is an interesting response to those who feel that sailing has become too technical, too dependent on technology and less and less about feel. Surely it makes the opposite case.

Anyway, the takeaway for me is that this circuit is becoming increasingly more fascinating with each iteration as we see some of the world’s best sailors and teams slug it out in one design boats where the data on how they sail them is openly available while everyone eggs each other on, nudging the speed bar higher and higher as they do.

But also, where the notion of luck is getting harder to justify.

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