(Reuters) – Britain’s Ben Ainslie and his new crew dominated the first event of SailGP’s second season in Sydney, winning four out of five fleet races and then beating titleholders Australia in Saturday’s high-speed head-to-head finale.
Ainslie beat local hero Tom Slingsby and his Australian crew, who incurred a penalty at the start of their match race, which the event’s organizers said was watched by thousands of spectators gathered around Sydney Harbour.
This followed a series of five races between the seven teams competing in state-of-the-art F50 catamarans, which ‘fly’ above the water on hydrofoils, with Ainslie’s crew clear leaders on points ahead of Slingsby’s.
“It’s certainly been one of the best sailing events I’ve ever taken part in. Incredible conditions on the harbor, it doesn’t really get any better than that. It’s been magical,” Ainslie, the most successful sailor in Olympic history, said.
Ainslie’s was the first overall event win by a British crew in the SailGP championship, which was set up in 2018 by Oracle founder Larry Ellison and America’s Cup veteran Russell Coutts and culminates in a winner-takes-all $1 million prize.
“It was all going well until the last race where we made a big mistake at the start. SailGP Season 2 has already kicked off a lot bigger than last year and I’m looking forward to the next event,” Slingsby said.
Sailing’s equivalent of Formula One uses an updated version of the catamarans which featured in the last America’s Cup in 2017 and have hit speeds of 50 knots (93 kms per hour).
Newcomers Spain also made an impact in their first SailGP races, but were penalized for a crash with the French crew in the first race on Friday which meant they were fourth overall.
INEOS-backed Ainslie is taking on both the high-octane SailGP racing circuit and an America’s Cup challenge in 2021 as part of a grand plan to create the world’s leading sailing team.
Its new series represents an evolution for SailGP as it seeks to build audiences and sponsorship. This month SailGP said it had sold a minority stake to sports and entertainment group Endeavor in a deal valuing it at $200 million.
(Reporting by Alexander Smith in London; Editing by Tony Lawrence)