Slingsby steers ‘Flying Roo’ to 5th straight SailGP victory

Tom Slingsby and his mates have perfected the routine by now. They pose with the Australian flag as their catamaran bobs gently in the swells and then spray each other with Champagne after another victory.

Slingsby and Team Australia did it again Sunday on Lake Michigan off the Chicago city front, barely making it into the podium race and then expertly sailing their “Flying Roo” foiling 50-foot cat well ahead of Canada and Britain to win the United States Sail Grand Prix.

The two-time defending SailGP champion Aussies claimed their fifth straight victory and seventh in the last eight regattas over two seasons in tech mogul Larry Ellison’s global league. That winning streak includes their Season 2 championship and $1 million prize in March on San Francisco Bay.

The crew loaded with America’s Cup and Olympic veterans finished dead last in the fourth fleet race in light breeze Sunday and then won the final fleet race to sneak into third place overall and a spot in the podium race by just one point over trans-Tasman rival Team New Zealand. The Kiwis, skippered by two-time America’s Cup winner Peter Burling, stuffed their bows approaching the starting line and finished eighth out of nine boats.

Once in the podium race, Slingsby exhibited his mastery by grabbing controlling position at the start and sailing well ahead of Canada’s Phil Robertson and Britain’s Sir Ben Ainslie in the first freshwater regatta in SailGP’s three seasons.

“A day in two halves,” said Slingsby, an Olympic gold medalist and former America’s Cup champion. “We came dead last in the first race and thought our chance of at least making the final was over, let alone winning. And then we go on and win the next race, sneak into the final. Everything played out well. The Kiwis had a bad race, we overtook them and got third and then the last race, we just got around mark one and that was everything.”

It was the same order of finish as in the opening regatta of Season 3 in Bermuda last month.

Slingsby, a fierce competitor and redhead nicknamed “The Red Mist” for his temper while helming the boat with the giant yellow kangaroo on the wingsail, knows the winning streak will end at some point.

Just not yet.

On Friday, Ainslie took a shot at Slingsby, his former America’s Cup crewmate, and the Aussies for their confidence, calling it “a dangerous line to tread.”

Slingsby wasn’t fazed in the slightest, saying, “What we have going on is really special. The harmony and vibe in the team at the moment is unbelievable.”

The Aussies will put their streak on the line again in Ainslie’s home waters off Plymouth, England, on July 30-31.

Ainslie and Slingsby were crewmates with Oracle Team USA when it staged one of the greatest comebacks in sports to successfully defend the America’s Cup in 2013 on San Francisco Bay. Their rivalry will extend beyond SailGP because Slingsby has signed on with the New York Yacht Club’s American Magic for the 2024 America’s Cup. Ainslie is leading a British America’s Cup syndicate for the third straight cycle.

“I can see a lot of people stopping us. The result went our way but I think it’s pretty clear to see we’re not invincible,” Slingsby said. “Luck went our way a little. The guys performed well under pressure, which I know they well, and we were able to sneak out of that one. But yeah, that’s getting too tight for us.

“The other teams, Canada, how good are they going?” Slingsby said. “I think they beat us by about 10 points in the fleet racing for the event and GBR are looking strong, too. Look, there’s a lot of teams that can beat us out there. We’ve just got to keep doing what we’re doing and keep this good run running.”

Canada is a first-year team helmed by Robertson, a New Zealander who is leading his third team in as many seasons.

New Zealand finished fourth overall in the Chicago regatta, followed by France, Denmark, Spain, the United States and Switzerland.

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Follow Bernie Wilson on Twitter at http://twitter.com/berniewilson

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