As the season approaches the halfway point, SailGP is preparing for a show-stopping weekend when the league returns to the UAE for the Emirates Dubai Sail Grand Prix presented by P&O Marinas, taking place December 9-10 at Mina Rashid.
The build up to the sixth event of Season 4 reads like a script from one of the Hollywood stars involved in the historic purchase of the USA SailGP Team. Jimmy Spithill is out as driver – less than two months after delivering the USA’s first win of the season in Cádiz-Andalucía – and in his place, sits Taylor Canfield.
However Spithill has since announced his intention to set up an Italian team in Season 5 and is remarkably still driving in Dubai – representing his home country Australia for the first time since 2001 as replacement for Tom Slingsby, who is on paternity leave. The Australia team increased its championship lead to seven points after a third place in Cádiz-Andalucía but has now gone five straight finals without a win.
Spithill said: “No question, I’d love to go out and absolutely smoke those guys [USA] but one thing that we’ve all learned in SailGP is that if you focus on just one team, you can end up in last or second last. It’s been about 20 years since I put on the beautiful green and gold, so it’s an exciting time.It’s a fantastic team, let’s face it, it’s the benchmark team of SailGP. It’s actually been harder than I thought, in that a lot of the maneuvers in the playbook are different from what I’m used to. Not going back to a reflex action of what I’m used to in a high-pressure moment is very challenging.”
While Australia has benefited from Spithill’s temporary free agency for Dubai, Canada has also swooped amid the changes to the USA team. After Chris Draper stepped down as wing trimmer for Canada, they pounced to get Paul Campbell-James.
Campbell-James has been involved in SailGP since its inception and, not just that, Phil Robertson’s Canada will show off another USA recruit. Philippe Presti, one of the world’s most renowned foiling coaches, is Canada’s new coach, replacing Joe Glanfield who is focussing on his role with the British Olympic team.
Canada hasn’t reached a final since the Season 4 opener in Chicago and is currently seventh in the standings, eight points off the three teams that share third place ? USA, Spain and Emirates GBR. Rather than Finals, Robertson has twice found himself colliding with Spain’s Diego Botín.
Robertson said: “USA probably dropped the world’s best coach and one of the world’s best wing trimmers and the opportunity was there to scoop them both up. We did and that leaves us in a very good place. We don’t have any beef with Spain. I think that’s pretty clear, isn’t it? The Spanish put the boat where it shouldn’t go. It’s a shame to be tangled up with them but we don’t want to do that too much more.”
If Robertson and Botín was the original rivalry of Season 4, another has thrust itself into the spotlight in the form of Sir Ben Ainslie’s Emirates GBR and New Zealand’s Peter Burling. Ainslie single-handedly blocked Burling from the Final in Cádiz-Andalucía and Kiwi wing trimmer Blair Tuke let him know about it on the water.
New Zealand returned to racing at the Spain Sail Grand Prix for the first time since its wing collapse and had to make do with fourth after the incident. They are however just two points off the top three in the championship standings.
Burling said: “I think what happens on the playing field stays out there. We enjoy that rivalry we have with the British. It almost feels like there’s a bit of a restart mid season. The pressure to get good results and consolidate that place in the top three or at the top of the leaderboard is on now more than ever. It’s an exciting time to do a push into the back half of the season. It’s incredibly tight on points.”
Ainslie said: “The social media teams have certainly had a great time replaying that clip. In the heat of the battle things get said. I think the great thing about Cádiz was you just saw how much it meant to us as sailors. It gave everyone a bit of a laugh but it shows how much emotionally we invested in it.”
The Dubai event marks SailGP’s first of many Race For The Future takeovers, highlighting the league’s ongoing commitment and passion to climate action with COP28 currently taking place in the iconic city. The takeover showcases how the league is racing for Impact, Innovation, Inclusivity and Clean Energy solutions.
The event has made history already in racing for inclusivity with a first-ever all female F50 training session taking place in the build up to racing after the Switzerland SailGP Team provided its F50 to the Women’s Pathway program.
At the event is a host of innovative, ground-breaking activations delivered for the first time showing how events can be run more sustainably. This includes a reduction of 36 percent to the on-water fleet ? such as race management and coaches operating from the shore, the largest temporary solar array Aggreko has ever installed at an event and the event being powered by 100 percent clean energy.
The Emirates Dubai Sail Grand Prix presented by P&O Marinas gets under way at 2.00 p.m. local time tomorrow, December 9, and can be seen on Dubai Sports. For details on how to watch around the globe visit SailGP.com/watch
For fans in Dubai, tickets are still available to have a seat right in the heart of the action.
SAILGP SEASON 4 CHAMPIONSHIP STANDINGS (after five events):
1 // Australia // 43 points
2 // ROCKWOOL Denmark // 36 points
3 // United States // 32 points
4 // Spain // 32 points*
5 // Emirates GBR // 32 points
6 // New Zealand // 30 points**
7 // Canada // 24 points***
8 // France // 24 points
9 // Switzerland // 11 points
10 // Germany // 8 points****
*Spain SailGP Team docked two points in Season Championship for four-point penalty at Spain Sail Grand Prix | Andalucía-Cádiz
**New Zealand SailGP Team unable to compete in Taranto due to the structural failure of the team’s wingsail at France Sail Grand Prix | Saint-Tropez
***Canada SailGP Team Docked four points in Season Championship for eight-point penalty at France Sail Grand Prix | Saint-Tropez
****Germany SailGP Team docked two points in Season Championship for four-point penalty at Oracle Los Angeles Sail Grand Prix
SAILGP SEASON 4 IMPACT LEAGUE STANDINGS:
1 // Australia // 203 points
2 // Switzerland // 188 points
3 // Emirates GBR // 177 points
4 // France // 175 points
5 // New Zealand // 172 points
6 // United States // 162 points
7 // Canada // 160 points
8 // Germany // 159 points
9 // ROCKWOOL Denmark // 158 points
10 // Spain // 147 points