The inaugural press conference for the Italy Grand Prix has come to a close here in the beautiful Teatro Fusco of Taranto. Good to hear from all of the teams, including some new faces to the circuit, and to break down “that collision” in Bermuda.
Header image by Thomas Lovelock for SailGP
“It’s a great pleasure to be in Italy, in Taranto. Congratulations to the mayor for bringing this incredible event to Taranto, a perfect arena for sailing with beautiful training conditions. I’m looking forward to the weekend and some great racing. To the fans I say: expect a fantastic show, with close racing, you’re going to love it”.Checco Bruni, the only Sail GP sailor with a home advantage this weekend.
And when asked about a potential future Italian SailGP team he said, “I’m working hard to have an Italian team ASAP and we’re very close and working every day on it. I’m sure there will be some good news very soon.”
Next up was Paul Goodison, filling in on the GB team for “Big” Ben, stating that “it’s a big ask to follow him, but he’d had a couple of productive days training with the team improving the chemistry by the hour. There’s lots to learn but he’s getting comfortable with the crew and the boat since his last sail on a catamaran four years ago”.
Following Paul was Tom Slingsby the CEO and skipper of SailGP Australia. When asked if he felt robbed in Bermuda after impressing during racing but ultimately coming short in the race for all the marbles he said, “I don’t feel robbed for Bermuda, we know the rules. We sailed well, they did better. If we compete as well as we did in Bermuda, we have a good shot at taking home this event, but we have to win the last race”.
And how do you feel going up against Paul [Goodison], do you think he’ll pick up quickly?
“Paul will be just fine, especially with the experienced crew he has”.Slingsby on Goodison taking over from Ben Ainslie.
Billy Besson was ecstatic to comment on his team’s performance at the previous event: “I’m happy with what we achieved in Bermuda; our goal now is to keep the momentum going. We need to work to improve every day and ultimately win; everyone is giving their all so that we can be the first to round the first mark”.
“It’s motivating to be close to our home event in St. Tropez. We can’t wait to perform well here and there, arriving confident and putting on a good show”.
The foiling Spaniard Florian Trittel stated that he and his team are here to “pursue excellence, and the fourth place in the standings only makes them want to improve more”. That said, the “we have proved we can be on the podium, only technical issues stopped us… here in Taranto it’s all up to us to perform” he said.
“We may be one of the newest teams, but in a few more races… I’m confident we will be in the final race” said Trittel.
The Collision in Bermuda
Minutes into the fourth race of the Bermuda Sail Grand Prix presented by Hamilton Princess, the United States SailGP Team led by Jimmy Spithill was in third place, in a position to challenge for the podium overall and earn a place in the finals.
Within seconds, the team’s fate changed dramatically as the Japan SailGP Team, led by Nathan Outteridge, collided into the side of the American F50 at a closing speed of approximately 100 kmh, destroying the steering system which resulted in a catastrophic capsize that ended the team’s event.
In any sport, you have rules. Some rules are designed to ensure an equal playing field, others to keep athletes safe. If these rules are broken, there are consequences intended to provide future incentive to compete fairly and safely.
Keep that in mind.
Back to Bermuda, after arriving on the dock immediately after racing, Outteridge came to Spithill to apologize and, after reviewing the final standings, both were shocked to learn that the U.S. SailGP Team (as well as Japan) had been assigned the maximum penalty for the collision which, in turn, resulted in the team dropping to last place overall.
“We reviewed the footage for days,” said Spithill.
“When you watch the replay and listen to the comms, you can’t argue that Japan didn’t know a collision was possible almost a minute ahead of time. Watching the USA onboard cameras, we got flung like ragdolls. We simply didn’t know or expect them to tack and turn so slowly. On these boats, at these speeds, there is no reaction time.”
Fast forward to two weeks after the end of the Bermuda event, Spithill and Outteridge together had a hearing with the SailGP Umpire Team to argue that the maximum penalty assigned to the USA was not only unfair, but also potentially set a precarious precedent that could be exploited.
“Having concluded that both boats broke Rule 14 [all boats are responsible for avoiding collisions] we looked again at what further actions the jury may take through the contact and damage policy which was designed to help reach a prompt conclusion in a pressure situation during the broadcast window. Currently this process gives us no discretion as to the penalty no matter what the relative culpability of each boat is, which in this case we do feel is harsh on the USA but we don’t feel that with the current rules and policies we can or should change those rules and policies after the fact.”
Back to the press conference
In summary: equal responsibility. Both teams are prosecuted with maximum penalty with no chance for redress.
When asked whether or not he had made up with Nathan Outteridge after the collision in Bermuda, Jimmy Spithill said, “yes, we’ve made up after Bermuda. It happens. It’s like Formula 1, decisions are taken quickly and mistakes happen. I sure hope this time we get a chance complete the weekend, racing all the races”.
“The incident put a spotlight on the rules: they weren’t good enough and now we have an opportunity to make them right just like in the Formula 1 or the Moto GP”.
“Happy to be in Italy, love the fans and can’t wait to put on a good show” finished Spithill.
Nathan Outteridge, the other party involved and helmsman for the Japanese stated “there were various discussions with umpires; the rules have since then changed, with penalty points to be deducted in future incidents, so the key lesson is one at this point: keep the boats apart”.
“But if people stop pushing hard, then we should stop racing”.Nathan Outteridge, SailGP Japan
“I’m putting a lot of pressure on Checco to help us get a positive result here; he’s getting more excited by the day and we feel the support for him every time we practice. Our goal for today during practice is to perfect tomorrow’s game plan. Tomorrow we’re definitely going to wake up to a different Checco, pushing us to be better. We’re looking forward to racing Sunday” said the skipper of the Japanese team.
The Danish helmsman, Nicolai Sehested said that he’s disappointed with their current position and that they have to push harder. The new coaches are a big help, and they can already see differences in the way they sail on the water. He also remarked that the Sail GP circuit is a fantastic platform to promote their sponsor Rockwool in cities that are looking to rebrand in a sustainable way such as Taranto.
Lastly it was Arnaud Psarofaghis’ turn to speak: “It’s my first time on an F50 and I only have three sailing days under my belt. Nathan has been very helpful giving me tips; the team is great and everything seems very easy with them and I really need to step my performance up to hit the start at the gun. Peter and Blair gave me overall advice on the performance, strategy and tactics and absolutely no pressure on the results; my only job is to enjoy the day, have a blast whipping the F50 around the course and spend fun time with the team. The boat is difficult to understand with all the software, but it’s still a sailboat at the end of the day. I’m very happy to be part of SailGP and this lineup, it’s great to be here; all of Switzerland and New Zealand will definitely follow us”.
Today is the last practice day; racing starts tomorrow, you can find out how to watch here.