SYDNEY (AP) — Australia recovered from a poor start to score a vital race win on the first day of SailGP racing on Sydney Harbour, as two of its biggest rivals were involved in a damaging collision.
Tom Slingsby’s Australian team finished third and seventh in the first two races and were sitting sixth on the Sydney event standings, with only the top three after Saturday’s two remaining fleet races to qualify for the final.
But the Australians dominated Friday’s final race to finish the first day on 16 points, tied for second with the United States and five behind surprise leaders Spain, the only team to finish in the top three in all three races.
The big moment came early in the final race and it involved Japan and Britain, running third and fourth heading into this week’s penultimate round of the series.
The British F50 catamaran skippered by quadruple Olympic gold medalist Ben Ainslie ploughed into the Japan boat, slicing off its bow, with neither boat able to continue.
“I can’t imagine sailing tomorrow,” said Japan’s Australian skipper Nathan Outteridge. “It's definitely ruined our boat and any chance of winning this event.”
Outteridge accused the British boat of reckless sailing.
Asked what happened, Ainslie said “We didn’t see the other boat, we focused on America. That’s our mistake.”
Spain, which led the series after two rounds but had performed poorly since, won Friday’s first race ahead Britain. Japan controlled the second race, winning ahead of Spain.
The USA entry, driven by Australian Jimmy Spithill, improved through the day, scoring a sixth, third and second.
“I had a tough day. I struggled to get off the start line in all of those races,” Spithill said.
Outside the top three after Friday were Denmark 14, Britain 12, Japan 10, New Zealand 9 and France 7.
Slingsby bookended the inaugural 2019 season with wins over Outteridge on Sydney Harbour in the first-ever SailGP regatta and then in the $1 million match race finale in Marseille, France, to clinch the championship.
Spithill joined the circuit for Season 2, which was postponed for more than a year due to COVID-19. Season 2 originally began with Ainslie dominating the Sydney regatta in early 2020 but those results were voided after the pandemic struck.
Australia has won three of the last four regattas.
Spithill is a two-time America’s Cup champion who has a permanent home in San Diego with his American wife and their two sons. Spithill, Slingsby and Ainslie were mates on the Oracle Team USA crew that rallied from an 8-1 deficit to stun Emirates Team New Zealand in the 2013 America’s Cup on San Francisco Bay.
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