In 20 knots of breeze, the teams wasted no time in jostling for pole position – and from the first moment, the teams battled for supremacy in Sydney, racing their boats right on the limit.
Reigning champions Australia SailGP Team lined up in front of a home crowd expected to pick up where they left off in their victorious match race in 2019 – but the day belonged to Great Britain SailGP Team, helmed by Ben Ainslie, who took the plaudits with a hat-trick of race wins to mark a dream start to their campaign.
New teams Spain SailGP Team and Denmark SailGP Team presented by ROCKWOOL joined the F50 fleet to race for the first time – and held their own against some of the world’s best athletes, a sign that the winning the championship will be an even tougher prospect this season than last.
Denmark recorded a seventh place, fifth place and sixth place in the opening three races, leaving them in sixth position overall after day one.
And, despite going into the Sydney event with less than 20 hours of training on board the supercharged F50 catamaran, Danish helmsman Nicolai Sehested admitted that he thought his crew was unlucky not to have taken more points on the first day of racing.
“My first reaction is that I’m a bit frustrated,” he said. “In all three races today, we were top three after the first lap, and then the wheels started to come off a bit.”
He added: “We always knew that the first day would be tough, but we felt we actually had it out there – we were fighting for the top spots, and then of course it’s even more frustrating when you lose it – but I am happy that we were up there in the first place.
“The more time you get in the boats, the less mistakes you make.”
Going into the first event of Season 2, forecasts predicted strong breeze and difficult conditions, which led to the teams making a late switch for their smaller, ‘high-speed’ foils – a new, untested set-up for the Danish crew.
“Sailing on the high-speed foils was very challenging for us, as we’ve never used them before – and it makes the sailing very different,” explained Sehested.
“It was very busy and full on out there. We have mixed feelings about the performance, and we’re frustrated that we didn’t take home more points – but ultimately, we’re happy that we finished a tricky day in one piece.”
That was not the case for all of the seven teams, with France SailGP Team sustaining damage to the boat following a collision with Spain SailGP Team in Race 1 and missing the subsequent two races, leaving them bottom of the leader board after Day 1.
Ainslie’s Great Britain crew heads into Day 2 sitting pretty at the top of the rankings – and Sehested admitted that the almost flawless performance highlighted the level necessary to succeed in this championship of this quality.
“The British team are sailing the boat so cleanly out there,” added Sehested. “They don’t make mistakes, they fly high and barely touch the water. It was a really solid performance from them today, and that’s what we need to aim for.”
Day two of the Sydney SailGP event, taking place on Saturday, promises an altogether different challenge, with less breeze promising a much more tactical approach from the teams.
And Sehested believes that the shift in conditions will be beneficial for his rookie Danish crew, which starts the day in sixth place in the overall rankings.
“I think less breeze will help us a little bit,” added Sehested. “We’ve definitely been on the back foot today, as it’s the first time we’ve sailed in more than 20 knots and on the smaller foils, but we need to learn and the best way to learn is by racing, so no complaints from my side.”
Fans around the world will be able to watch coverage of Sydney SailGP through the most immersive broadcast experience the sport has ever seen. The global championship has also revamped the award-winning SailGP APP to provide a more comprehensive look into each race, implementing additional data and viewing options so users can watch the world’s fastest sail racing when and how they want. The SailGP APP is available in the App Store and Google Play.
SailGP Season 2 Overall Leaderboard: Day One
1 // Great Britain // 30 pts
2 // Japan // 23 pts
2 // Australia // 23 pts
4 // United States // 19 pts
5 // Spain // 15 pts *9 points deducted from total score
6 // Denmark // 13 pts *2 points deducted from total score
7 // France // 5 pts