Tom Slingsby and Team Australia won the Spain Sail Grand Prix on Sunday by sailing to an easy win in the podium race after Sir Ben Ainslie’s British team capsized just after the start, effectively knocking U.S. skipper Jimmy Spithill out of contention.
The victory on a wild afternoon on the Bay of Cádiz allowed the defending champion Aussies to vault back into the lead in the season standings heading into their home regatta in Sydney in mid-December.
The anticipated heavyweight showdown in the podium race among three of the world's best skippers never materialized. Slingsby, Ainslie and Spithill were crewmates with Oracle Team USA in 2013 and helped stage one the greatest comebacks in sports to successfully defend the America’s Cup.
Ainslie’s foiling 50-foot catamaran nosedived shortly after the start and Spithill had to turn so suddenly to avoid a collision that his catamaran crashed off its foils, triggering the emergency stop systems. During the time it took for the systems to restart, Slingsby had sailed away for his third victory in six regattas this season.
“We’re stoked with the day. It couldn’t have gone better for us,” said Slingsby, who for the second time this season bounced back from a last-place finish to win a regatta.
“Off the line we realized Ben got a better start, better acceleration, and we saw it all unfold right in front of us,” Slingsby said. “It looked like they got a big gust and got a little bit high on the foils. I just saw them go into a huge pitch-pole right in front of us. The goal was to avoid them and then we didn’t really realize what happened to Team USA. We realized we had a big lead and we just had to nurse our way around the track.”
Spithill, a two-time America’s Cup winner, was able to get going again and finished the race to strengthen Team USA’s spot on the leaderboard.
Team Australia leads the eight-team fleet with 45 points, followed by the United States and Japan with 44 each and Britain with 40. The rest of the fleet includes New Zealand with 36 points, Spain 35, Denmark 33 and France 31.
Following the Sydney regatta, the season championship will be decided in San Francisco from March 26-27 when the top three teams will sail for the $1 million, winner-take-all championship. The Aussies won the $1 million prize during the inaugural 2019 season.
“It’s a nice feeling to finish the European leg in front,” said Slingsby, who won a gold medal at the 2012 London Games, where Ainslie capped his Olympic career by winning his fourth straight gold medal and fifth medal overall. “Everyone’s joking we’re the Ricky Bobby of the fleet. We’re either first or last. I didn’t expect that that to happen but it’s true at the moment. We’re either on form or we’re off form. I’m happy we’re on form in the final event and we’re heading into Australia with the lead.”
The Aussies won just one of five fleet races during the weekend but never finished lower than fourth place in the other races.
With the wind blowing above 20 knots, Spithill skippered the American boat into the podium race for the fourth time this season.
“Today was definitely on the edge. You’re really in avoidance mode,” Spithill said. “As we all came off the start line and saw Ben do a huge nose dive, we bowed out to avoid them, which caused us to crash. It triggered our emergency stop systems, effectively shutting the boat down. While we restarted the systems, Tom was already far down the line.”
The host Spanish capsized during practice and were knocked out of Sunday’s racing due to major damage.