Skipper Peter Burling of Team New Zealand expertly extricated himself from a pre-regatta penalty to win the Singapore Sail Grand Prix on Sunday and strengthen his position as the top threat to two-time defending SailGP champion Tom Slingsby of Australia.
Burling nailed the start of the podium race aboard his foiling 50-foot catamaran and sped ahead of Denmark’s Nicolai Sehested and Slingsby, each slowed by a poor maneuver, for his third regatta win of the season.
Equally impressive, the Kiwis achieved a 100% fly time, staying on their foils the entire race at an average speed of 53 km/h (33 mph) and a top speed of 77.1 km/h (48 mph).
The six Kiwi crewmembers shouted, hugged and fist-bumped after crossing the finish line, a massive mood swing from days earlier, when Burling glumly discussed a four-point penalty for colliding with the U.S. catamaran during training.
”Coming into this weekend on the back of those penalty points and just seeing the way the team came together under a bit of adversity is super pleasing for us as a group,” said Burling, the two-time defending America’s Cup champion skipper and a three-time Olympic medalist.
The Kiwis went 1-5-2-3 in the weekend’s four fleet races and the Aussies went 2-2-7-4.
While Slingsby is all but assured of reaching the $1 million, winner-take-all season championship race for the third straight time in tech tycoon Larry Ellison’s global league, Burling strengthened his chances of making it, too. With three regattas to go, Slingsby leads the nine-boat fleet with 68 points, followed by Burling with 59 and Britain’s Sir Ben Ainslie 54. France has 53 and Denmark 51.
”It’s two from two against the Aussies now in the finals,” Burling said. ”We’re more than happy to keep chipping away and now looking forward, we want to first try to make the top three, which obviously this weekend helps out a lot with, and then to try to be in our best possible shape going into that final to win the season.”
The rivals from across the Tasman Sea each get a home regatta in the coming months. Slingsby will try to win on Sydney Harbor on Feb. 17-18 and Burling and his mates will try for a home win in Christchurch on March 18-19. The season concludes on San Francisco Bay on May 6-7, with the top three crews competing for the $1 million check.
”We’re feeling really good. We’re really happy with how we’re looking on the ladder,” said Slingsby, an Olympic gold medalist and former America’s Cup champion who will sail for the New York Yacht Club’s American Magic in the 2024 America’s Cup.
”It’s going to be amazing going back to Australia,” Slingsby said. ”It feels like we can just do our thing and sail and just try to get some decent results. We don’t need to go out there and get first to make the final. So, we’re going to go out there, sail free and try to get the win in front of the home crowd.”
Follow Bernie Wilson on Twitter at http://twitter.com/berniewilson