Sir Ben Ainslie and his Emirates Great Britain SailGP Team ended a two and half year event win drought with a masterful performance at the France Sail Grand Prix final.
In front of a sellout shoreline crowd in Saint-Tropez, Ainslie outfoxed the reigning champions – Tom Slingsby’s Australia – and Diego Botin’s in-form Spain team to taste victory for the first time since the Bermuda Sail Grand Prix in Season 2.
Australia stormed into the final with a win in the day’s final fleet race, and the young Spanish team made it two event finals in a row after its victory last time out in Los Angeles, but neither could match the British performance in the final. Ainslie ran the Aussies down in the penultimate leg of the race in an enthralling neck and neck battle.
Ainslie said: “It’s been a long time coming but it was great to be in one of those all time classic finals with the Aussies, who are the great champion team, and look, a huge amount of respect to them. But for us to come out, get through them and overtake them – we’ll take that. The team did a brilliant job all through the weekend and I feel like we made some big gains after a frustrating period for us not quite getting the results. Now we’ve got some momentum behind us so it was a great team effort.”
British strategist Hannah Mills said: “It was full on for everyone, just sailing the boat incredibly hard, it was all over the place so I think everyone feels a bit fried. You want those tense, tight battles, obviously to come out on top was amazing. It feels good.It feels like we’ve been building for a long time, struggling with different things and it hasn’t been quite clicking and so to come good here has been so good for the team.”
For Australia, a season of solid results continued to see it remain on top of the championship standings, but the team is yet to win in Season 4 and yet to win in Saint-Tropez.
Slingsby said: “When I look back at my career and these tight races with Ben Ainslie, I think I’ll look back at today pretty fondly, but I still would have loved to get the upper hand. The fact they hadn’t won so long is unbelievable really, hats off to them, they saw the opportunity and took it.”
Botin’s Spain is second in the season standings after an excellent start to Season 4 and looks to be only growing in confidence. Botin said: “We still lack technique here and there but overall we are doing the important things well, positioning ourselves well, improving our starts, it feels good.”
It was a disappointing day for ROCKWOOL Denmark, as Nicolai Sehested’s team led the standings after day one only to miss the final and a chance for a debut event win. The Danes were overtaken in the final seconds of the final fleet race by Switzerland to miss out in devastating fashion. The United States led by Jimmy Spithill similarly failed to find its day one form and ended the event in fifth place overall.
Quentin Delapierre’s home team also endured a torrid second day to see its final chances evaporate with two last place finishes and ended the Grand Prix in sixth place. It was brighter news for the Germany team led by Erik Heil as it posted its best ever result of seventh overall and fourth place in the day’s final fleet race.
Peter Burling’s New Zealand team saw its day one points be enough to post an eighth place finish. This was despite the team not racing on the second day as damage sustained to its wing wasn’t able to be repaired in time. A thorough investigation is under way as to why the wing came out of alignment which caused the structural failure to happen. In the meantime, while the league determines the facts it will not use the 29m wing configuration. A replacement wing is on its way from New Zealand for the next event in fourteen days’ time.
A heavy day one penalty cruelled Canada’s event to see it sit at the bottom of the Saint-Tropez standings, and Phil Robertson’s team also incurred a four point season penalty that sees it drop to eighth on the season ladder. Sebastien Schneiter’s Switzerland took home two points for the season standings with a ninth place result.
The European leg of Season 4 of SailGP continues in just two weeks with the ROCKWOOL Italy Sail Grand Prix | Taranto on September 23 and 24. For details head to SailGP.com/Taranto.
FRANCE SAIL GRAND PRIX | SAINT-TROPEZ FINAL STANDINGS //
1 // Emirates GBR // 10 points
2 // Australia// 9 points
3 // Spain // 8 points
4 // ROCKWOOL Denmark // 7 points
5 // United States // 6 points
6 // France // 5 points
7 // Germany // 4 points
8 // New Zealand // 3 points*
9 // Switzerland // 2 points
10 // Canada // -3 points*
*Canada penalized eight points for contact with Spain on day one
*New Zealand did not race on day two after sustaining damage to its wing after day one
SAILGP SEASON 4 CHAMPIONSHIP STANDINGS (after three events) //
1 // Australia // 26 points
2 // Spain // 24 points
3 // ROCKWOOL Denmark // 23 points
4 // Emirates GBR // 19 points
5 // New Zealand // 17 points
6 // United States // 14 points
7 // France // 13 points
8 // Canada // 12 points*
9 // Switzerland // 7 points
10// Germany // 4 points*
*Germany SailGP Team docked two points in Season Championship for four-point penalty at Oracle Los Angeles Sail Grand Prix
*Canada SailGP Team Docked four points in Season Championship for eight-point penalty at France Sail Grand Prix | Saint-Tropez