Saint-Tropez – Twenty-one years on from the devastation of September 11, Australian-born America’s Cup champion Jimmy Spithill led the United States to their maiden victory in season three of SailGP.
After the thrills and spills of a dramatic opening day of racing off the coast of St Tropez, light winds made sailing challenging for a completely different reason on a picturesque Sunday afternoon on the French Riviera.
For Tom Slingsby’s Team Australia, the conditions proved “frustrating” as they struggled across the start line.
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After a race record speed of 99.94km/h (53 knots) was hit by the French on Saturday, multiple countries failed to cross the finish line in time in both races on a gruelling day two.
Australia crawled to seventh in race four on Sunday, before the fifth race was abandoned, with Slingsby’s crew in a strong position, because of the light winds while race officials cancelled the sixth and final fleet race because of the conditions.
The abandonment of the sixth race meant Australia, who still hold a one-point lead over New Zealand in the overall rankings, missed the final.
“It was pretty frustrating,” Slingsby told foxsports.com.au.
“Just because we thought we were in, we thought we were in the final and it was a bit of a shock for us to hear that we weren’t.
“We thought we’re moving into third place, and then we got told the race was abandoned and none of the scores counted from that race and it pushed us back to fifth overall from third.”
It was a weekend of what-ifs for the back to back champions.
Slingsby’s crew were in a race to the finish line alongside New Zealand in the opening race, before Peter Burling luffed on their trans-Tasman counterparts causing Australia to nosedive.
The incident saw Australia drop from a certain top two finish to fifth, as they crawled over the line with metres left to sail.
Despite a remarkable finish in the second race, the damage caused from the race one incident proved telling in the third race, where they faced technical difficulties and crashed when leading early.
“Yesterday, we actually sailed really well,” Slingsby said.
“We had a couple of issues in that last race.
“One of them was a technical issue, which we found out overnight. We thought that we didn’t hit a button, but we found out we did and there was a fault in the system, so that lost us maybe three or four points on Saturday.
“Then obviously the issue of the Kiwis we lost points.
“It felt like we could have scored really well (on day one) but didn’t.”
Slingsby said they were hoping to replicate last season’s feats by winning in Spain after coming last in St Tropez when the tour moves to Cadiz later this month.
“I mean, this was not a great result for us but we want to finish out this European leg of the circuit with a good result,” he said.
“We did that last year.
“We finished last place here in St Tropez last year and then we followed up with a win in Cadiz, so hopefully we can get things back on track there.”
Slingsby’s issues on the waters helped pave the wave for another local, as Australian-born driver Spithill led Team USA to their maiden victory.
The breakthrough victory for the youngest America’s Cup winning skipper was not lost on the who’s who of sailors in SailGP.
His compatriot Nathan Outteridge, who has jumped on board to lead Switzerland, had some fun when they crossed paths later saying, “Congratulations, mate. Finally.”
The win was a breakthrough for Spithill, who had come under fire for his team’s poor result.
But their maiden win, their first from six finals, was something to celebrate on a day of such significance for the USA.
We were under some real pressure coming into this one and for the team to respond is just a great sign of confidence.
“What I’ve learned is you don’t listen to anything outside the team,” Spithill told foxsports.com.au.
“There’s a lot of narratives and people talking about what we should and shouldn’t be doing with our personnel and changes.
“At the end of the day, the most important thing in those times is actually sticking together. And, in a lot of ways, it’s actually a good test for a team to see what you know, how your teammates are going to respond when you’re really under the gun, and everyone just pulled themselves tighter and had really open minds.
“We had some real brutal, candid discussions on a few topics, and we really grew out of that.”
The USA edged out New Zealand and Great Britain in the final, spoiling the party for Sir Ben Ainslie’s crew following the death of Queen Elizabeth II.
“It’s a massive moment for our country,” Ainslie said, who also recalled an anecdote of arriving late to a dinner hosted by Queen Elizabeth and forgetting in his rushed state of mind to wear his black buttons for the black tie event.
“Queen Elizabeth was just such a huge part of everybody’s life in the UK.
“To lose her was very, very sad.
“It’s interesting, there’s quite a lot of talk about should sporting events go ahead in the UK, internationally should teams be competing? My take on it was sort of the Queen was always that person that just got on with it.
“Whatever was going on, she kept serving her country and really taking a strong lead, and I think she would have wanted people to carry on in a respectful way.
“We did that and we’re always proud to represent Britain, be that for our former Queen and now for our King.”