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Ainslie & Co., Too Good for SailGP

In the opening event of the SailGP 2020 series, the British team and its decorated skipper set the bar high. Very high.

March 2, 2020
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Rome Kirby, helmsman of United States SailGP Team, darts his gaze skyward, avoiding his PR man’s camera while stating the obvious: “You know…you’ve got Ben who leaves, bring the same guys and goes sailing five days a week on a platform that foils, so…”

Ben Ainslie and Great Britain SailGP Team on the F50 in Sydney Australia in 2020.

SailGP Sydney 2020

Great Britain SailGP Team helmed by Ben Ainslie in action during races on Race Day 2. Sydney SailGP. Drew Malcolm for SailGP

So, yeah. Ben Ainslie and his all-star Great Britain SailGP Team, schooled the SailGP fleet in the first event of SailGP’s “Season 2.” From the warning of the first three practice races, right on through the lopsided match-race final against the sloppy defending Australian squad, Big Ben, Luke Parkinson, Iain Jensen, Matt Gotrel, Richard Mason and Neil Hunter, delivered on the boat’s bumper sticker that read, “Go hard or go home.”

They did go big, and they did go home as the team to beat.

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Let it be said that Ainslie is—as the sailing world knows—lethal on the helm. With all that time in Bermuda, it’s like riding a bike. Slightly hunched, eyes laser focused, he appears frighteningly at ease as he dissects the fleet and the racecourse with an unflappable aura. But it’s not just Ben on the boat, which is why the broadcast commentators gushed about the relaxed communication amongst the sailors. Ainslie’s boat is dripping with talent, especially wing-trimmer Iain Jensen, who knows how to make the F50 rip in all conditions. I suspect Japan SailGP skipper Nathan Outteridge would be happy to have his wingman back.

While other teams were melting down, tripping over their foils, and banging into each other, the British squad was fluid in all areas. They easily won four of five races—a fourth in the final race after being late for the start—and dispatched Tom Slingsby and Co., in the match race when the Australians jumped the box by a fraction of a second.

The Australian’s may have stumbled, but the Brits had a plan for them anyway.

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“We were asked which end of the line we wanted and normally you would say we’ll take the port entry and get in there first and get control,” Ainslie told SailGP media, “but we had a look at the start box and realized the wind was so patchy and shifty, actually that entry would be tough to keep the boat moving as we’d have to throw in a couple of maneuvers and we didn’t want to get caught out like we had before.”

The much-hyped match final between the defending champ and the series newcomer fizzled in the first seconds of the race, so followers of the series will have to wait until San Francisco in May. Until then, the sailors will deep dive into the race data to look for improvements and clues to Great Britain’s dominance. Kirby hinted at some Moth sailing and time in the simulator. Either way, it would do the American squad well to figure out how to stay ahead—once ahead—or it’s going to be a long season of following the black and red boat of the Brits around the track.

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