Million Dollar Dunk

“You’ve got to be closer to the edge than ever to win. That means sometimes you go over the edge, and I don’t mean driving either.” The words of motor-racing legend Dale Earnhardt who knew a thing or two about being on the limit, are ringing in the Aussie SailGP camp tonight as they recover from a painful tack, bear-away, capsize that caused extensive wing damage. Is it the million dollar crash? Hopes of victory possibly slammed away amidst the fog and gloom of a late afternoon on San Francisco Bay. Well the odds are shifting, it could well be Jimmy and Nathan’s to lose now.

©Ricardo Pinto for SailGP

With just one more day of training left, the teams will now be in safety-first mode. The Bay bites and they know it. Getting to the start-line is paramount and if the right tune hasn’t been found now, it might never be. In effect, the preparation is over and it’s down to the athletes to deliver but for Team Aussie, it’s a race against time. They’ll be there and they’ll have their tails up but they’re acutely aware, it’s not ideal. Can they win from here? I’ll call it as a negative but this is Tom Slingsby remember. Expect fireworks.

©Felix Diemer for SailGP

But gunpowder of a different variety was firing off elsewhere, with a rather inglorious spat emerging in the Spanish team. Phil Roberston has been hauling this young team, focussed on youth development, higher and higher up the ranks all season but coming to San Fran has seen a shifting of the team’s priorities.

The wheel was given over to Jordi Xammar, the 470 wizz as training began and pretty soon, the Spanish crew found the communications and demeanour just a bit more welcoming than the hard-driving, off to Team Canada, Robertson and decided that a coup was in order. Robertson was dumped in a tense base meeting and is off the boat with his marching orders. Brutal business is sport.

Spain SailGP Team co-helmed by Florian Trittel and Jordi Xammar sail toward the Golden Gate Bridge during a practice session ahead of San Francisco SailGP, Season 2 in San Francisco, USA. 23rd March 2022. Photo: Felix Diemer for SailGP.

Can the Spanish acquit themselves with dignity this weekend? Let’s hope so. It’s a great, young team who have their eyes firmly on Season 3 and you know what? To make an omelette, you have to crack a few a few eggs. We’re going to see more of this in SailGP and on balance I think the team and Jordi were pretty gracious in interview and they move on. Will be interesting to see just how they go when the starting gun fires.

But the story of the day from a British perspective, was again the massive talent that is Hattie Rogers who became the fastest girl in SailGP…ever. Handed the wheel by Ben Ainslie for the blast back in to shore after a full day on the water, as the Guv’nor stepped unusually (and to much ribbing from Matt ‘Shrek’ Gotrel) forward for a turn on the grinders, Hattie recorded a top speed of 48.2 knots – or as Sail GP like to call it: 89.2664 km/h.

That’s fast. What were you doing at the age of 21? Great to see and even better to witness the super-cool, all-in-her-stride, professional demeanour that Hattie displayed…I tell you, she’s the one to watch. Everyone’s talking about her. And massive congratulations to the Inspire program and to Ben for making this all happen – where is the sport if we don’t encourage the next generation through? Fabulous to see the pathway working at such rapier speed.

Sam Newton, grinder of Australia SailGP Team, and Jason Waterhouse, flight controller and tactician of Australia SailGP Team, attempt to fix a towing rope to the Australia SailGP Team F50 catamaran after their capsize during a practice session ahead of the San Francisco SailGP, Season 2 in San Francisco, USA. 24th March 2022. Photo: Ricardo Pinto for SailGP. Handout image supplied by SailGP

So the apple-cart has been upturned. Just when you though you knew for certain how this would all unfold, SailGP throws up the unpredictable. This is sport at the highest level, serving up drama untold.

Nathan Outteridge is rapidly gaining the status of the man to beat. Jimmy Spithill, my pick, has the team to do it and the out-and-out competitiveness coursing through his veins to snatch this – but is he as ‘predictable’ as Nathan says? That’s the big question. Jimmy’s not buying it. But there’s a growing sense in the paddock that these two are the favourites and it’s a mighty Aussie battle of psychology and psyche. I can’t take my eyes off Outteridge at the moment – something’s happening over there, but Jimmy loves the big stage as the ultimate ‘Hollywood Sailor.’

Who wins is anyone’s guess. Pick a pilot and cheer from the armchair. It’s all going down in San Francisco and there’s a golden rainbow at the end of the weekend that’s far more than money – it’s status, bragging rights and the affirmation of who’s the best of the best. Whoever does it, goes to another level.

Who’s your pick for the title?

9 thoughts on “Million Dollar Dunk

  1. Conditions were brutal yesterday. The WASZP fleet spent more time in the water than above it. Not a day to practice any fancy maneuvers. The Aussies learned a hard lesson. Sir Ben’s new color scheme is not universally applauded and blends in to the bay more than any boat going 40-50 knots should.

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