New Zealand skipper Peter Burling threw an aggressive high-speed maneuver at Tom Slingsby of Australia en route to a dominating performance Saturday at the France Sail GP in St. Tropez, leading to some heated words between the rivals who are fighting for the season points lead.
Burling’s move during a drag race to the finish line of the first race at 90 km/h (56 mph) caused the Australians’ 50-foot catamaran to fall off its foils and dig its bows into the waves. The Kiwis sped on to victory and Aussies dropped from first to fifth.
The crash damaged the Aussie boat’s fairings, which were repaired in time for the second race, which Slingsby won.
On a day when SailGP’s speed record was broken twice, Burling won the third race to take a two-point lead over the United States, with the Aussies another five points back in third in the nine-boat fleet. The top three boats after Sunday’s four fleet races advance to the podium race.
Burling is a two-time defending America’s Cup champion helmsman and a three-time Olympic medalist who is pushing for his third straight regatta win in tech mogul Larry Ellison’s global league. Two-time defending SailGP champion Slingsby came in with a four-point lead in the season standings over Burling.
The Aussies took the lead rounding the final mark of the first race and the Kiwis came speeding around the mark close behind onto the short reach to the finish. Burling took advantage of his rights as the leeward boat and luffed toward Slingsby, who had to keep clear and ended up in a spectacular splashdown.
“We were literally just trying to get to that finish line safely in the first race,” said Slingsby, an Olympic gold medalist and former America’s Cup champion. “With these conditions, we were side-slipping and had very little control. We would have happily given him the position and come in second, and unfortunately, we now have a lot of damage from an unnecessary incident.
“To me, him coming up at us like that is just unsafe,” Slingsby said. “In that scenario, it’s 50/50 as to whether people get seriously injured and I just don’t think it’s worth it for one point at the start of the event. He always seems to have a pretty warped view on this type of thing so it will be interesting to hear his thoughts.”
Burling defended his move and criticized the reaction by Slingsby, a redhead who is nicknamed the “Red Mist” because of his temper.
“We were overlapped for a very long time and they were closing down to us so we were fully within our rights to do what we were doing,” Burling said. “I think as drivers we might need to pitch in for some anger management lessons for Tom. I think it’s out of line, the swear words he was saying afterward on our race management channel.”
U.S. skipper Jimmy Spithill, looking to bounce back after struggling earlier in the season, had a strong day with a second and two thirds.
“Collectively, I thought everyone sailed the boat very well,” said Spithill, a two-time America’s Cup champion. “In those conditions, the key is trying to put three clean races together, and man, no doubt we were on the edge all day.”
Sir Ben Ainslie of Britain hit a SailGP record 99.02 km/h (61.5 mph) in the first race before French skipper Quentin Delapierre broke it by hitting 99.94 km/h (62.1 mph) in the third race.
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