Spithill’s US team has strong start to SailGP regatta

TARANTO, Italy (AP) — Jimmy Spithill skippered the United States team to victories in two of the three fleet races Saturday to take the lead in SailGP’s second regatta of its second season.

The strong performance came five weeks after Spithill’s SailGP debut was marred by the U.S. boat getting knocked out of the opening regatta in Bermuda after a collision with Team Japan and its veteran skipper, Nathan Outteridge.

Spithill’s squad is in strong contention to advance to the winner-take-all podium race on Sunday.

Due to light winds, teams raced their foiling, 50-foot catamarans with only three sailors rather than five. They included a helmsman, wing trimmer and flight controller.

On the U.S. boat, Paul Campbell-James and Rome Kirby helped Spithill get the catamaran around the course.

“Racing today really highlighted the depth of talent on our team,” said Spithill, a two-time America’s Cup winner. “Sure, I was driving and trimmed the foils through some of the maneuvers, but full credit goes to Paul and Rome. Rome was, at times, doing three jobs at once.”

Kirby’s tactical call helped the American boat thread between two rival boats and win the first of the day’s three races.

After finishing fourth in the second race, Spithill won the start of the third race and held on through tricky conditions for the victory.

“Today we wanted to stay clean and keep away from the pack behind us,” Spithill said.

Japan won the second race and was second and third in the other two races.

The United States and Japan are tied with 21 points, with the American boat technically in the lead due to winning the third race.

Spain has 17 points, France 13, New Zealand and Britain 11 each, Denmark nine and defending champion Australia five.

Britain, which won the Bermuda regatta, and New Zealand both have replacement helmsmen for this regatta. Britain’s Sir Ben Ainslie, a four-time Olympic gold medalist and former America’s Cup winner, had a previously scheduled commitment. Kiwi skipper Peter Burling, who has won the last two America’s Cup matches, is focusing on defending his Olympic gold medal in the 49er class.

Skipper Tom Slingby’s Australian crew had a problem with the hydraulic system that left the boat dead in the water and unable to finish the first race. They had won four of the five fleet races in the Bermuda regatta before finishing second to Ainslie in the podium race. The Aussies also took the $1 million, winner-take-all prize in the inaugural 2019 season.

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