Tom Slingsby and his two-time defending SailGP champion Team Australia expertly sailed their ”Flying Roo” foiling catamaran to a commanding victory Sunday in the podium race of the opening regatta of Season 3 on Bermuda’s Great Sound.
The Aussie crew, packed with America’s Cup and Olympic veterans, has been so dominant in showing the rest of the fleet its dual sterns that it has turned podium races into the nautical equivalent of a Sunday drive.
Slingsby hit the starting line in control and sailed ahead of Britain’s Sir Ben Ainslie and Canada’s Phil Robertson for an easy win, reaching 42 mph (68 kph) as his 50-foot cat with the large yellow kangaroo on the wingsail skimmed above the turquoise waters at the finish.
The victory came just six weeks after the Aussies’ dominating win in the $1 million, winner-take-all grand final of the pandemic-delayed Season 2 on San Francisco Bay. Team Australia also won the $1 million top prize in 2019, the inaugural season of tech tycoon Larry Ellison’s global league.
Slingsby, an Olympic gold medalist and former America’s Cup champion, has won four straight SailGP regattas and six of the last seven. He was in third place in the nine-boat fleet despite having just one top-three finish in Saturday’s three fleet races and then finished fourth and first in Sunday’s fleet races to reach the podium race.
”We’re definitely a confidence team, and when we’re confident we’re very hard to beat,” Slingsby said after his crew doused him with Champagne. ”Winning that last fleet race with everyone, we won that from start to finish and that put us in high confidence and we sort of all looked at each other after that race and said, `We’re going to smoke this last one,’ and that’s what happened.”
Despite dominating SailGP since its inception, Slingsby said it’s always a big day when he beats Ainslie, one of the world’s all-time greatest sailors who joined SailGP in Season 2.
”We’re stoked,” Slingsby said. ”You know you’re competing against the very best when you’re up against Ben Ainslie and I still regard him as the greatest sailor of all time. He’s still the GOAT to everyone else in the world. But we’re happy to get one up on him here. We know he’ll come back strong.”
Ainslie beat Slingsby in the podium race in the Season 2 opening regatta, also in Bermuda. They were crewmates aboard Oracle Team USA when it staged one of the biggest comebacks in sports to win the 2013 America’s Cup.
Ainslie is the most decorated sailor in Olympic history, with four gold medals and a silver. He continues to lead a British team in the America’s Cup. Slingsby was recently hired by the New York Yacht Club’s American Magic for the 2024 America’s Cup.
Ainslie won two of three fleet races Saturday and then had finishes of fifth and fourth Sunday to reach the podium race. He’s looking to rebound after his first season in SailGP was marred when he inexplicably smashed his catamaran into Team Japan during the penultimate regatta in Sydney, ripping the bow off the starboard hull of the Japanese boat. Ainslie let Team Japan use his boat to complete the regatta, essentially ending his chance to reach the Season 2 podium race.
Canada had an impressive showing in its debut regatta. Robertson is leading his third team in as many seasons after being fired by the Spanish team on the eve of the Season 2 finale.
Denmark finished fourth and the United States, helmed by two-time America’s Cup champion Jimmy Spithill, was fifth. They were followed by New Zealand, Spain, France and newcomer Switzerland.
The next regatta is in Chicago on May 18-19.
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