In light winds off Navy Pier New Zealand best mastered tough conditions in front of packed shorelines to win the season-opening Rolex United States Sail Grand Prix in Chicago. Peter Burling led his team to victory over Tom Slingsby’s Australia and Phil Robertson’s Canada in the first three-boat event final of Season 4.
It was a day to remember for last season’s two bottom placed finishers as Diego Botin’s Spain and Sebastien Schneiter’s Switzerland won the day’s two fleet races. But the victories weren’t enough to get them into the final which saw very light conditions – with the F50s in the 29-meter wing configuration – and a win for the Kiwis.
Burling said: “This puts us obviously in a great position for the season, we’re really happy to walk away with the win. In this first one, you know it’s going to be a long season and eventually it’s going to come down to the last race we know but it’s definitely nice to win a few along the way, this feels good.”
It was first blood for Burling in one of the league’s fiercest rivalries between himself and Slingsby that had played out throughout Season 3. Slingsby said: “Honestly we are really happy, it’s a second place in the first event of the year. Of course we wanted to win, we felt like we sailed really well, and we had a good shot at it but the Kiwis were better in the final race so hats off to them.”
Canada finished fifth and second in the fleet races on day two which was enough to make it into the final, but the team never managed to get in front of its southern hemisphere rivals.
Robertson said: “It’s a great start to the season, and good for the team, it’s a solid result with all the chat that was going on and an unsettled lead-up to this event, look we had our backs against the wall and we delivered.”
It remained an event to forget for the home team with Jimmy Spithill’s United States finishing in ninth place in the standings.
Spithill said: “We need to learn the lessons and come out swinging in LA. If you look at last season what really hurt us was rotation. We are going to keep the team as locked as we can, take the lessons. It was just a couple of small mistakes yesterday that really cost us. But otherwise the team was sailing pretty well.”
Elsewhere ROCKWOOL Denmark SailGP Team opened the season with a solid fourth place finish, one spot ahead of Botin’s Spain. France, Emirates GBR and Switzerland occupied positions six through eight, while newcomers Germany found it tough going in the conditions to finish tenth.
Huge crowds packed Navy Pier for a second day as the event continues to go from strength to strength. Lynn Osmond, President and CEO of Choose Chicago, the city’s official tourism marketing organization, said: “Chicago consistently ranks among the top tourist destinations in the world, and it’s events like SailGP that truly make our city shine on the global stage. We’re so proud that SailGP selected Chicago to kick off Season 4 of this global race series and hope to welcome this exciting event back to Chicago for Season 5!”
Season 4 continues with the inaugural Oracle Los Angeles Sail Grand Prix Port of Los Angeles on July 22-23.