The opening day of the France Sail Grand Prix was a mixed day for Ben Ainslie’s Great Britain SailGP Team in light breeze in Saint-Tropez.
With the teams once again sailing with reduced three-person crews in the marginal foiling conditions, Ainslie’s crew opened the event in style nailing the start and winning the first race to take the early lead in the event leaderboard. In the next two races, however, the British finished fifth and eight respectively, resulting in the Great Britain SailGP Team ending the first day in fifth place.
Speaking after the opening day of racing, Ben Ainslie said: “That was a mixed bag of a day. Great first race, average second race and bad third. We had a good start in the first race but after that our starts weren’t good enough and that will be the most important area we will analyse.
“Every day you sail these boats you learn something new and that’s the secret to keep pushing forwards. The difference between the teams is so marginal that any team can win races. That’s what you want to see, good competition and we’ve certainly got that.”
“Tomorrow, we’ve got two races to get ourselves into the final podium race. We will work out what didn’t quite go right today, learn from that and come out firing.”
Race 1 – GBR WIN
It was a strong start in the opening race for Ainslie’s crew, crossing the start line at the front of the fleet together with Billy Besson’s home France SailGP Team and Pete Burling’s New Zealand SailGP Team, who had the inside line and led at the first mark.
On the third leg, Ainslie picked the right course area for breeze, ensuring they sailed less distance than their competitors and the British subsequently moved ahead of the New Zealand crew into the lead.
Despite manoeuvres proving tricky in the marginal foiling conditions, Ainslie, along with Luke Parkinson and Iain Jensen, expertly flew the British F50 through the course and extended their lead throughout the remainder of the race to take the win. A boundary penalty for Burling’s New Zealand crew on the final upwind leg saw them drop several places, with Nathan Outteridge’s Japan SailGP Team finishing second, and Phil Robertson’s Spain SailGP Team making up the top three on the line.
Race 2 – USA WIN, GBR 5th
After a delay to Race 2, with Tom Slingsby’s Australia SailGP Team attempting to fix several mechanical issues onboard their boat, the second start of the day proved to be less successful for the British crew, crossing the start line in mid-fleet.
With overtaking proving difficult in the light conditions, Ainslie’s team struggled to move through the fleet, consistently remaining in a mid-fleet. It was Jimmy Spithill’s USA SailGP Team who took the lead in the race at Gate 2 and held onto it throughout, featuring Paul Campbell-James onboard who had recovered remarkably quickly from a broken fibula in the last SailGP event in Aarhus, Denmark.
Despite falling off their foils through a tack on the final leg, Spithill’s American crew were able to hold onto their lead and take the race win, with Outteridge’s Japanese team finishing in second and the Great Britain SailGP Team finishing in fifth place, just metres behind Robertson’s Spain SailGP Team.
Race 3 – USA WIN, GBR 8th
A mistimed start meant the British F50 crossed the line in seventh place, as the light conditions continued, the British crew struggled to move through the fleet and finished the final race of the day in eighth place.
Spithill’s USA SailGP Team took home back-to-back race wins, after neck-and-neck racing with Nicolai Sehested’s Denmark SailGP Team. Burling’s New Zealand team snuck in to finish third at the last moment, after Besson’s French crew drew a late penalty costing them two places.
Great Britain SailGP Team currently sit in fifth place on the France Sail Grand Prix leaderboard, three points behind the Japan and Spain SailGP Teams in third and fourth respectively. The British crew remain in the hunt to finish in the all-important top three and qualify for the final winner-takes-all podium race but will require strong finishes in races four and five on Day 2.
Text and Image courtesy of SailGP