Last Updated: October 14, 2023, 02:30 IST
Peter Burling and Team New Zealand rejoin the rough-and-tumble SailGP fleet in Spain this weekend after an unexpected five-week layoff, eager to reel in their biggest rivals in the Season 4 championship chase in tech baron Larry Ellison’s global league.
While the Kiwis return with a new wingsail five weeks after their old one shattered in a stunning sequence, Emirates Great Britain skipper Ben Ainslie looks for his third straight victory and three-time defending champion Tom Slingsby of Team Australia tries for his first win of the season. Team USA skipper Jimmy Spithill has tapped Taylor Canfield to fill in for flight controller Hans Henken, who was seriously injured when the American catamaran crashed off its foils three weeks ago.
The Spain Sail Grand Prix Cádiz on Saturday and Sunday will also mark the second anniversary of women sailing aboard the F-50 catamarans for the first time, and the environmentally conscious league said it will use 100% clean energy to fuel the support fleet.
The Kiwis have been stuck on the docks since their 95-foot (29-meter) wingsail suddenly shattered and fell into the Mediterranean just minutes after they finished racing in the opening day of the France Sail Grand Prix in Saint-Tropez on Sept. 9. They were unable to race in the following regatta at Taranto, Italy, and were awarded fifth place as part of a revised redress ruling by the league.
After training with the new wingsail on Wednesday, the Kiwis went 1-4-1 in practice racing on Thursday.
“Definitely the last couple of events have been a setback for us but the team is fully focused on the weekend ahead, getting a good score on the board and getting our season back on track,” Kiwi wing trimmer Blair Tuke said. “There’s a huge amount of motivation in the group. We’re embracing the situation that’s been handed to us, getting back out there and showing what we can do on the water.”
New Zealand is fifth in the season standings in the 10-boat fleet, 14 points behind trans-Tasman Sea rival Australia. Ainslie and Spain’s Diego Botin, looking for a victory on home waters, are in second place, six points behind the Aussies.
Burling and Tuke are key members of two-time defending America’s Cup champion Emirates Team New Zealand and have won three Olympic medals together, including one gold. They are still seeking their first SailGP title, which comes with a $1 million prize.
Ainslie, the most-decorated sailor in Olympic history and a former America’s Cup champion, is looking to become the first skipper to win three straight regattas since Slingsby and the Aussies won the last three regattas of Season 2. One of those Aussie wins was at Cádiz, when strategist Nina Curtis became the first woman to win a SailGP regatta. She’s back on board the Flying Roo after maternity leave.
“Cádiz is probably my favorite event because that was when female athletes started to sail on board the boats and it is particularly memorable for us because we took that win two years ago,” said Curtis, an Olympic silver medalist and ocean racer. “I think as a team we’re proud of our consistency this season — that’s been something we’ve been working on — however we’re itching for a win and it would be exciting to take a win here.”
Since that boundary was broken, all SailGP races have included female athletes.
“It definitely won’t be long until there is a female driver,” Emirates GBR strategist Hannah Mills said. “Whether it is me or someone else, I think it will be a massive step forward for sailing.
“For me SailGP is one of the only sports in the world where you can truly have men and women competing on an equal footing,” said Mills, the most-decorated female sailor in Olympic history.
Mills serves as SailGP’s Purpose Ambassador, helping to shape the Women’s Pathway and sustainability initiatives.
SailGP said that through its partnership with Repsol, it will operate the support fleet with 100% renewable petrol rather than conventional petrol, reducing its carbon emissions in Cádiz by up to 13 tons of CO2e.
“The fact that SailGP has managed to achieve that in such a short space of time — we are really pushing the marine industry to be cleaner and pushing that to happen quicker,” Mills said.
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