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New York Sail Grand Prix – The Russell Report


The Mubadala New York Sail Grand Prix kicks off on June 22, with the F50 fleet racing against one of the most iconic backdrops in the world. Ahead of the event, SailGP CEO Russell Coutts gives his behind the scenes insight into the fleet.

We’re back in New York for the first time since Season 1. It’s the penultimate event of Season 4 ahead of next month’s $2 million Grand Final in San Francisco.

Looking back on Halifax, I think almost everyone was surprised by how much the British dominated, especially in such difficult conditions. We saw the top teams – including the Kiwis and Aussies – really struggling in those conditions, but the British team looked locked in and stable. They told me afterwards that it didn’t always feel like that onboard, but it certainly looked like that from off the boat.

Season 4 // Emirates GBR against the New York city backdrop

Strategist Hannah [Mills] and driver Giles [Scott] were really doing a great job of positioning the boat and linking up the wind shifts. The combination of trim and steering through the gusts and lulls and changes in wind direction looked as good or better than anyone, which was one of the reasons they looked more stable. I haven’t listened to their onboard comms, but I suspect it was pretty good. They just grew in confidence across the weekend. We’ve had multiple event winners so far this season, which shows how competitive the league is becoming – now seven out of the 10 teams have won events and all teams have won at least one race.

Season 4 // United States underway during New York practice racing

Another takeaway from Halifax was the performance of the United States team. They came last in all three races by a significant margin and they’re clearly scrambling. They had a new wing trimmer, Jeremy Wilmot, which would have been a huge challenge, especially in those conditions. However, one of the other key differences is that the U.S. team runs their female athlete, Anna Weis, in the grinder position, while team CEO Mike Buckley is in the strategist position.

Season 4 // Anna Weis grinding on board the United States F50

There’s a lot of debate whether that’s the best arrangement of talent, especially if Anna isn’t generating as much power as the best male grinders on the other teams. It’s particularly critical in strong, gusty conditions where the wingsheet needs to be active, and it’s noteworthy that no other team is in this configuration. However, this weekend’s lighter conditions could see a reduced number of crew on board and the fact that Anna has been training in that position could end up being a real strength and play in their favor.

Season 4 //ROCKWOOL DEN and New Zealand underway in New York practice racing

New York poses a lot of jeopardy. There’s a light wind forecast of 15 – 19 km/h on Saturday with a bit more wind expected on Sunday. On top of that, there’s the incoming current which will be a factor and Governors Island will create holes in the south easterly winds on the left side of the course. This means the right side of the course (looking upwind) should be favored, although there will be the occasional big left shift coming over the island.

The Australians are under pressure to put up a better performance to retain their position in the top three, but you really couldn’t get a worse venue than New York for them coming into the Grand Final. Light winds have historically been a weakness for the team although less of an issue of late. It’s going to be a particularly difficult venue, and I can easily imagine one of the top teams having a bad performance here.

Season 4 // Australia F50 with Statue of Liberty in New York

If you don’t get off the start line well then it will be difficult to come back on what will likely be a one-sided course. The perfect venue for the Australian team would have had windy, relatively steady conditions with a fairly open racecourse. This is pretty much the polar opposite to that – it’s going to be light, shifty winds with a cross current, making the approaches to the mark gates and the timing of the starts much more complex. I could easily see Australia having a poor result given this set of conditions, while ROCKWOOL DEN or France could have a good one and all of a sudden Australia slips out of the top three!

Season 4 // Close up of Australia sailing in Halifax

It’s incredible to think that’s a possibility given how dominant they were just four months ago. At the start of the season, we were all thinking Australia was a dead certainty to make the Final in San Francisco. Now, it’s not a certainty at all. However, I’m going to caveat all of that by saying that if they do qualify for the Grand Final in San Francisco, I still rate them as the favorites – particularly in the expected strong winds

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