As the seventh and penultimate event on the global championship calendar, the purpose-led racing league will make a spectacular return to iconic Sydney Harbour this week, December 17-18, for the Australia Sail Grand Prix presented by KPMG.
As SailGP Season 2 draws toward a dramatic conclusion, there has already been plenty of drama as the world’s best athletes go head-to-head, racing in the identical, hydro foiling, high-tech F50 catamarans. The season is set for a thrilling finish with just one point separating the top three teams on the championship leaderboard.
Two-time America’s Cup winner Jimmy Spithill’s United States team and Olympic gold medallist Nathan Outteridge’s Japan team sit just behind Slingsby. Driver of the Great Britain team, Sir Ben Ainslie – the most successful Olympic sailor of all time – sits in fourth place and will be looking for a big result in Sydney to make the season ending Grand Final in San Francisco. Slingsby made it clear at the pre-event press conference that he’s hoping Ainslie doesn’t feature in the winner-take-all $1million race in San Francisco next March.
Slingsby said: “If we had to choose, it would probably be for Ben to miss out as he’s very good at performing on the big stage. And, in San Francisco we are expecting windy conditions, so it would be good to have Nathan – who is a bit of a light air specialist – over Ben, who is a heavy air specialist.”
For his part Ainslie said he was trying to restore national sporting pride for Great Britain after some difficult recent results for the England cricket team on their Australian tour. The last time SailGP was on Sydney Harbour in 2020 Ainslie’s team claimed victory.
Ainslie said: “We’ve been a little sore with the cricket results so far, so we’ve got to try and keep the British sporting challenge up, but it is going to be tough. As Tom said, there is great competition out on the Harbour, and the competition has just gone up massively.
“It’s just a wonderful place to sail – it’s got everything really. It’s a challenge because the wind is always shifting over the land, and the people really love their sport and their sailing. There aren’t that many places in the world where you have this kind of set-up. This city is right up there with my favorite sailing spots in the world.”
Ainslie is also looking to exorcise the demons of his last race in Cádiz when the British F50 dramatically capsized.
Ainslie said: “The capsize did hurt. That was the last time we sailed until yesterday, and we wiped out going around 80-85 km/h, and it was really frustrating because we were in a good position in the final race. At the last couple of events we’ve made some critical errors at key moments, and caused ourselves quite a few penalty points. We’ve got the package in terms of getting the results, and we just need to put it all together and try to avoid these critical mistakes.”
In contrast Slingsby’s Australia team comes into the race in hot form after victory in the last Sail Grand Prix in Cádiz, and has topped the podium in three of the last four events. Slingsby was also recently named Rolex World Sailor of the Year and is featured in the newest episode of SailGP Racing on the Edge.
Slingsby said: “It’s amazing to be back on Sydney Harbour, and I’m proud and really excited to show the Australian public how far SailGP has come. We came here in a couple of our early events, and I’m really proud of where SailGP is now.
“Last time here we lost, and we didn’t sail well, and we got beaten on home waters. But look, I just want to perform well, I don’t worry about the other names on the boats, they are all just competition.”
Currently sitting in third place in the championship, Japan driver Outteridge said he’s expecting his countryman Slingsby to come out firing in the Sydney.
“I’m sure Tom’’s learnt a lot from last year. I don’t think the pressure will get to him as badly as it did last time. He’s delegated more external responsibilities to team mates so he can focus on the racing. But the fleet is so much closer than it was last time and I think there will be a mixed bag of results this weekend. I would love to beat him this weekend.”
Fighting to keep his team’s place on the podium for San Francisco, Sydney-born two time America’s cup winner Spithill desperately wants to claim his first SailGP event win on his home harbour.
Spithill said: “SailGP has the best sailors in the world. It is the hottest competition in the world we have probably ever seen, and as a team it would make such a huge statement to win here.”
Sydney will also see the continuation of the Women’s Pathway Program (WPP), which saw athletes onboard the F50 during racing for the first time at the previous event in Spain. Once again the female athletes will be taking on a variety of roles across the fleet including grinding, tactics and communications.
Slingsby said he can’t wait to have Nina Curtis back on board and feel what it’s like to race on home waters in front of a home crowd.
Slingsby said: “I think it will be amazing for Nina, she is our lucky charm; she’s one-for-one, one race, one win. She’s just a great addition for us, Nina is really excited and her enthusiasm is really infectious for our team.”
For her part Curtis said the team was hungry for a win on home soil and extremely focused heading into the event.
Curtis said: “It’s going to be unreal, Sydney Harbour is so big but it can feel really small on these F50s, we get up to such high speeds, it’s all a bit surreal honestly, sailing in my home waters.”
The Sydney Sail Grand Prix will comprise two days of racing, with five fleet races followed by a podium race with the top three boats in the ultimate showdown to decide the winner on Saturday.
The fight for SailGP’s second podium has also never been more fierce, with the Impact League – introduced for Season 2 – once again on everyone’s mind this week. The league tracks the positive actions the teams make to reduce their overall carbon footprint and help accelerate inclusivity in sailing. At the end of the season there will be two podiums, with the winner of the Impact League crowned alongside the Season Champion and earning funding for its purpose partner, who supports and advises them throughout the season and is visible on the team’s livery. New Zealand currently leads the innovative Impact League from Great Britain and Australia.
The Australia Sail Grand Prix will also be the first opportunity for fans to experience SailGP Insights, a new data platform powered by Oracle Cloud Infrastructure. The new online dashboard will perfectly complement SailGP’s broadcast partners’ coverage, enabling fans to access in-depth information about the world’s most exciting racing on-water, while watching the live event feed. Ainslie said his team already find the platform invaluable.
Ainslie said: “One of the best things about the league is the data analysis in the Oracle Cloud, so we can go back and look at our boat and all the other boats at key moments in the races and try to work out why things happened. It is great that fans now get access to the same insights from racing.”
SailGP Insights powered by Oracle Cloud can be accessed at SailGPInsights.com.
The weekend is not to be missed and limited tickets for fan experiences are still available. To find out more and secure your tickets, visit SailGP.com/Sydney.
For fans further away,the action can be watched in over 175 territories, including live on Fox Sports and KAYO in Australia. Full details can be found at SailGP.com/Watch.
SailGP Season Championship leaderboard (after 7 events):
1 // Australia // 45 pts
2 // United States // 44 pts
3 // Japan // 44 pts
4 // Great Britain // 40 pts
5 // New Zealand // 36 pts
6 // Spain // 35 pts
7 // Denmark // 33 pts
8 // France // 31 pts
Notes and quotes from the Press Conference
Tom Slingsby – SailGP AUS (TS)
-How is it to be back on aus waters?
It’s amazing, long seven months away from home.
Proud to finally show the Australian audience how far SailGP has come.
-What is it like being back to get revenge on Ben for beating you here last time round?
Lost last time in Sydney Harbor; just want to compete for the title and have a shot at that. There’s definitely a rivalry; will fight to come out on top
Ben Ainslie – SailGP GBR (BA)
for starter, at least he’s not pissing drunk this time so props to whomever kept him in line 🙂 😀 😀
-A little bit sore with the ashes results so far. Got to keep the British sporting challenge up there, but it’s going to be tough with such great competition out on the harbor.
-Why is Sydney Harbour such a great venue for sailing?
Sydneysiders really love their sport and their sailing. Hundreds of boats on the water trying to weave around on the water.
-Let’s talk about Cadiz
Yeah it did hurt. That was the last time we sailed until yesterday and we wiped out, going 80-85 km/h. Really hard
Last couple of events have had a few key errors. Cost ourselves penalty points…
Got the package now in terms of being able to build results.
Certainly would do it differently. One of the great things is the data they have from Oracle Cloud.
Looked at differences, and yes, there were some key differences between set ups.
Phil Robertson – SailGP ESP (PR)
-Capsize on final day in Cadiz
Was a real shame and probably still a bit pissed off about how we executed the manouvre and put it into the drink… young team, have to make the mistakes to learn.
Yeah it was windy – some would say fresh to frightening.
It was above 20 knots. Used the oracle cloud and looked at what went wrong
Hoping to bounce back like they did in St Tropez
Quentin Delapierre – SailGP FRA (QD)
Cadiz was tough. There are a lot of things to learn from the event. Breezy day was tough, had to really concentrate just to keep the boat on the right side up.
-Were you disappointed with the results from your first event?
I was not mad about the results. I was just concentrating on communication with Leigh, only englishman onboard. Was quite happy though with the performance.
-Was the caliber of racing what you expected?
Best league you can face in the sailing world. The guys are really tough to beat and I have a lot to learn to reach the french team goal. Exactly what I was expecting.
-You won in Cadiz; are you riding high coming into this event?
We’re really getting confidence from being able to bounce back after low results. Very inconsistent but always clawing our way back.
-Special for Nina Curtis?
It’s going to be amazing for Nina. She’s our lucky charm at 1 win for 1 participation on board. It’s her first time competing on Sydney harbor in front of friends and family. She’s excited and her enthusiasm is infectious.
-Have you made any changes in order to get back to your winning ways?
Not made changes because of results and performances. New Female Hannah Diamond instead of Hannah Mills and Nick Hutton instead of Richard Mason.
Need to get some results. Got into the 3 in Cadiz, which is where you need to be but didn’t stick it in; just need to focus on being in the top 3 and executing once there.
-6th in the rankings; is the team focused on next season at this point?
No, that’s not the focus. Think there is still a chance to make the final. Never write yourself off.
-How are you guys approaching this event?
Improve the learning curve, focus on making it into the game. Win races and starts firstly; rankings come after that. Just looking for simple goals and trying to achieve them.
Predictions on who will win in Sydney?
PR: No idea
QD: I don’t really know. The two guys are legends; Tom could be hard to beat.
-SF; you’re sitting in 4th; can you make the Final?
BA: Never expecting any help from the Aussies or anyone.
PR: “for a small fee we can discuss it”
BA: Yes, of course we can still make it to the finals. It’s going to be fascinating to see how it plays out; we’re getting to the business end now, time to step up.
-Looking safe at the moment; who do you think you will be racing against?
Don’t really feel safe. It’s very tight. Don’t know who.
If we had to choose, it would probably be for Ben to miss out. Would be nice in San Francisco to have Nathan as a light air specialist over Ben given windy conditions.
-How do you get under BA’s skin?
I know it sounds diplomatic… I’m not trying to get under his skin, we’ve just got to focus on ourselves. If I try to piss him off and get under his skin, it’ll probably make him perform better.
-Problem has been inconsistency; have you identified anything that caused and possibly eliminate it?
There have been technical issues but not putting it all on that. It’s the way we respond to technical issues. We’ve worked on ways to overcome those issues; should they happen again, it’ll be interesting to see how we react.
-Your career has taken you to very different places (China->Spain); tapas or dumplings?
That is different; as athletes we are privileged to travel the world and try different things. China has definitely offered some strange ones, jellyfish being my favorite over there. Food is important and if I had to pick, I would probably say Spain (key is he’s showing character)
-How early in prestart are you picking a spot on the line
BA: Very good question. In lighter air it’s harder to predict. In Rose Bay it is very difficult given it’s so puffy. You see in general the guys who come in late are winning the line in breeze. That’s how you try to judge it, it’s about trying to get that spot on the line.
James Spithill – SailGP USA (JS)
-Second overall, yet to win an event; no stranger to Sydney; will it be the first time we see the US on top?
I’d prefer for it to be the last event where we come out on top. Tough start in the competition; it’s been a comeback. Of course we would love to win but, looking at San Francisco, consistency is the key and going in we want to be in good shape.
-You’ve won some pretty special trophies; how special would this one be?
SailGP has the best sailors in the world; Would make a huge statement as a team to come back. But there’s a lot of work that’s got to happen before we think about that.
Nathan Outteridge – SailGP JPN (NO)
– Didn’t make the finals in Cadiz and lost your second place to Jimmy; how does your third position affect how you approach this event?
For us it’s similar to what JS said: consistency is the key. In Cadiz we really struggled in strong wind condition. Placed 4th, was a good salvage.
The top teams are close; for us it is not about trying to win, but making sure BA can’t catch us .
-Made some lineup changes for this event; no Francesco Bruni, Leo Takahashi as flight and new grinder. Why?
There are a number of reasons for it. First it was quarantine; and secondly we need to start training Leo ahead of nationality rules being stricter for us next season.
Also, we’ve been racing pretty light on crew weight and been getting good light wind results, but SH can get windy and we wanted to be maximizing our crew weight. Luke Payne as grinder bringing in power on grinder and helping us out performance wise.
Peter Burling – SailGP NZL (PB)
-First race win in Cadiz, close to the podium in St Tropez. What do you need to do to get on the podium here?
Forr us it’s just about putting all the pieces together; great learning curve for us as a team. Next event probably most important, but for us we rreally need to step up and have a good one here.
– Is the competition tougher than you thought it would be?
It’s what you expect when you put so many good sailors in equal boats.
Always been about trying to catch up, being some training hours behind. Really feel like as a team we’re improving.
Nicolai Sehested – SailGP DEN (NS)
-You’ve obviously improved a lot; can you make the podium?
Any team can make the podium. All teams have good and bad days; the more consistent you are, the better performance you put together, the higher your chance is to make the podium. We’re not consistent enough as a team
-Had an incredible moment in Cadiz, narrowly avoiding the Aussie boat; your reaction was incredible. Talk us through it.
I don’t know if it was incredible; sometimes it’s a little too close for comfort. You’re probably going to see more and more with the racing getting so close. It’s been a really light season so far and now we’re getting to the windier events; we’re sure our fellow competitors would have done the same if we were in trouble.
–It’s looking windy; your strength is light. Is Saturday a good opportunity to test you and the team in high winds?
Exactly how we’re treating this event. Saturday looks like a proper Northeastern. We struggled in Cadiz for consistency, and it gets really difficult to sail these boats when it gets windy since a lot of power and skill is required.
SF is the ultimate goal, and there it can be breezy and wavy.
We brought in Glen Ashby to help with coaching and he’s giving us a few tips on small things. We’re not rewriting the whole program, just giving confidence to the team as a whole.
JS: Aussies really showed that they are the team to beat when the breeze is in. Ben Ainslie did too. You are rewarded on these boats in the breeze, they just go faster.
PB: We really enjoy coming here and racing Aus. Exciting to have it in a TZ where
NO: TS learned a lot from last year. Palmed a lot off to other team members, given him more time. When you have 3×12 min races.
Pressure won’t get to him as much as last time.
Fleet is much closer. 8 teams that can win races.
Would love to beat him.
JS: All of them. When you have eight of them. Can’t worry about one. High speed fleet racing, really like F1. If you get caught up you have a whole fleet ready to roll you.
-Question about data and usage
NS: It really is the key tool. Would be almost impossible when starting out without the data.
-You have a new female pathway sailor on board
JS: Ana slotted in really well. Four person crew she’ll be grinding.
Have three awesome (f) athletes. Looking to supplement the team with a full squad. Have different skill sets.
NO: Cool initiative. PB’s Live Ocean project for example is a great cause. When we kicked off in Bermuda took it some time to work out how to do it. We now have a partnership with Plastic Planet; heavily involved with how the team and Sail GP can remove plastics from our processes. If we can find a new area happy to share as all teams should be working together on it.
PB: We are focussing on winning the next events is more important for now rather than focussing on Season 3. About improving as a group. So close to podium races, we just need to complete an event [consistently].
Having our four year deal helps us plan for the future.
JS: Chicago will be awesome. Raced there before in similar format. Iconic franchises, opportunity as the locals love to get out and support local sporting events. Great to have another event in the US. We are really building a fanbase.
JS: Hope we make it yeah. Play the odds – three teams out of the top 4
NO: Anyone can sit here and say they will take out SF. Be there without two Aus buddies, Jimmy and Tom.
PB: There are so many areas where you can improve. Process of looking at data and working out where we need to be better. Intricacies in pre-start and how to best use software.
Little things… we are trying to do better all the time.
JS: The entire fleet has great experience here. A few who have grown up here or around, but at this level most of the fleet has great experience
NO: Tight courses remove some of that. Unless you end up in really light wind where you really need to pick it… the tricky stuff.
It is a strange feeling (racing against Aus teams). I’ve done it a few times now and it is strange.
– End of Conference –