French dominate, winds cause havoc at Australia Sail GP

February 18, 2023 GMT
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In this photo provided by SailGP, France SailGP team-members Quentin Delapierre, Francois Morvan, and Olivier Herledant, compete during race 1 of the Australia Sail Grand Prix in Sydney, Australia, Saturday Feb. 18, 2023. (David Gray/SailGP via AP)
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In this photo provided by SailGP, France SailGP team-members Quentin Delapierre, Francois Morvan, and Olivier Herledant, compete during race 1 of the Australia Sail Grand Prix in Sydney, Australia, Saturday Feb. 18, 2023. (David Gray/SailGP via AP)

SYDNEY (AP) — Quentin Delapierre steered the French team to three straight wins in gusty, shifting winds Saturday to take a six-point lead over Jimmy Spithill’s U.S. team before the weather conditions deteriorated on Day 1 of the Australia Sail Grand Prix.

Organizers issued a statement later saying a “weather event” at the conclusion of racing caused significant damage to wing sails and at least one boat and forced the cancellation of the two fleet races scheduled for Sunday. Team Canada’s wing was badly damaged when it was hit by a gust and blown into a canvas shelter while being lifted by a crane. Vision of the scene shows workers and spectators running for safety as the equipment is flung around in the wind.

It capped an eventful day on Sydney Harbour.

Delapierre won the opening race after the New Zealand team was penalized at the start for going a fraction too early, the Australian team was penalized at the last gate and the British team lost a sailor overboard.

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Spithill’s U.S. team placed second in the first two races and fifth in the third to hold second spot with 24 points, and the two-time defending series champion Australians were third after a difficult day with 20 points, one ahead of Emirates GBR. Denmark was in fifth place on 18 points, New Zealand was in sixth place on 17 and Canada had 14.

“We tried to push harder in these tricky conditions and it was quite rough,” Delapierre said. ”I tried to keep the boat in a safe position and tried to get the right start and for now it works.”

Gusting winds also caused dramas off the course.

“After racing today, a major weather event occurred that has resulted in significant damage,” organizers said in a statement. “As far as we know, no one was seriously injured during the incident. As a result of the damage, SailGP has had to cancel racing for the second day of the Sydney event.

“A full assessment of the damage is underway but it is likely some of the future SailGP events may also need to be delayed.”

The Aussies were going for a hat trick on home waters in the Australia Sail Grand Prix, the third-to-last regatta of SailGP’s third season but had technical problems before and during the first race and had to settle for third, fourth and sixth in the three races.

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Team Australia initially said it wouldn’t be able to make the start because of mechanical problems but then rejoined the fleet with 30 seconds to go, taking an early lead and holding it until incurring a penalty at the last gate.

GBR briefly surged to the lead but grinder Matt Gotrel slipped and fell overboard and the British dropped back to sixth as the crew pulled him back in, allowing the French and Americans to sail to first and second.

GBR strategist Hannah Mills said Gotrel was fine, but “it was a pretty scary situation — he went straight over the front, but the guys did a great job getting him back on board.”

Ahead of the weekend, Team Australia held a nine-point lead in the season standings over New Zealand, with Britain’s Ben Ainslie another five points back.

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Spithill said the wind “really played havoc” with the racing among the nine 50-foot catamarans on Saturday.

“The gusts were like bullets hitting,” he said during a TV interview. “Downwind when you’re going head to head with other boats, it’s full on.”

After two light-air regattas in Dubai and Singapore, won by Australia and New Zealand, the season had been set to wrap up in the windier venues of Sydney, Christchurch and San Francisco. The top three teams at the end of the San Francisco regatta will sail in the $1 million Grand Final.

The U.S. team is lagging in the season standings and needed to finish strongly to have any chance of qualifying for the winner-take-all Grand Final.

Spithill had been confident after Day 1.

“We have no choice but to really get a good event this time,” he said. “We’ve done a lot of work after the last event. We’ve definitely got the hammer down and we’re full throttle into tomorrow.”

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