Team USA Takes First at the Range Rover France Sail GP Regatta in Saint Tropez
It’s been an excruciating climb to the top for SailGP Team USA. More than 50 fleet races. 17 sailing regattas staged all over the world. Hundreds of miles traveled between events. Thousands of hours of on and off water practice time. All without a single podium finish.
But a smiling Team USA skipper and CEO Jimmy Spithill admitted it was all worth it after his team won a SailGP event for the first time amid the sun-dappled shores of the French Riviera last weekend.
“This starts our comeback!” a Spithill exclaimed.
“After a disappointing couple of seasons where it seemed the sailing gods were against us… and where people were saying some not so nice things about our team, it’s great to finish first in Saint-Tropez. It was a true team effort. I can’t tell you how proud I am of everybody who has worked so hard to make this happen,” Spithill told reporters from the deck of his F-50 catamaran minutes after the craft eased across the finish line in the super charged Sail GP’s fifth event of the 2022-23 season.
“The entire squad has a lot of confidence coming out of this event,” Spithill said. “Bring on Cádiz and let’s get after it.”
The Saint Tropez victory still leaves the Unites States team battling to move up from seventh place in the circuit’s standings. “We needed this win,” said Spithill. “Now we can hopefully build on this victory for a strong finish at the end of the month in Cadiz… and then be in a position to compete for a chance to finish the year with another trip to the finals in San Francisco.”
In addition to the Cadiz race, there will be four more SailGP events before the winner-take all million-dollar Grand Finale in early May in San Francisco.
The Saint-Tropez two-day event was marked by controversy and a full range of wind conditions with top end wind speeds reaching the upper limits of safety on Day One followed by light and fluky winds on Day Two which saw the racecourse shortened to accommodate the conditions. The second race of the day was abandoned, and the third race was cancelled.
In the end, it was Team USA’s dominant performance (a first, second, and two thirds) that propelled the team to the Medal Race against a resurgent Team New Zealand and Team Great Britain.
The American squad set the standard over the weekend, including earning its first fleet race win of the season. The consistent performance paid enough dividends to safely qualify them into the final podium race, despite incurring a four-point penalty for a collision in the second race today.
“My mistake,” said Spithill. “We clipped the back of the French boat. We got stuck at the bottom gate and didn’t have much steerage. It wasn’t on purpose, or dangerous. Look, if boats touch, someone is going to lose some points, and yeah, we were in the wrong.”
After a clean start in the final race, the US boat cruised to an easy victory with the only bit of angst occurring 100 yards from the finish line as team New Zealand caught a bit of wind and mounted a brief charge in the closing seconds.
After the race, an upbeat Spithill pointed to French sailor Amelie Riou who he dubbed “our secret weapon.” Riou had been pressed into duty when US female athlete team member Stephanie Roble was forced to pull out of the competition because of an injury sustained during practice. “The French were kind enough to lend us Amelie. She knows the conditions here and was a great help calling tactics in the racing.”
The SailGP circuit bills itself as being “Powered by Nature.” And nature showed up in force on Day one as wind speeds reached a consistent 35 km/h with the French boat setting a SailGP on course speed record of 99.9 km/h (that’s 62 mph in case you’re interested!)
SailGP CEO Sir Russell Coutts called the speed record “just another milestone in our quest to stage the most exciting and most fan friendly racing on the water. I think that's probably the limit for the current configuration but once we get the new foils, and,even more importantly, the new rudders, then we will be able to go significantly faster and I think we'll see speeds of possibly 110 km/h.”
In an exclusive interview with SpinSheet prior to this summer’s event in Chicago, the SailGP founder visionary predicted that Sail GP would “soon set the standard for high quality professional sailing… with a gender inclusive format that creates a professional path for female athletes within the context of an international sailing circuit.”
On-site crowds at the Saint Tropez event were estimated in excess of 25,000 with more than a million fans tuning into various electronic viewing options worldwide.
The next SailGP event will take place in Cadiz, Spain September 24-25. To catch all the action, go to: sailgp.com.