British star Sir Ben Ainslie sent his foiling catamaran flying past three-time defending champion Tom Slingsby and Team Australia halfway down the final full leg to win the France Sail Grand Prix in Saint-Tropez on Sunday and end a 2 1/2-year victory drought.
Ainslie, the most-decorated Olympic sailor of all-time and a former America’s Cup champion, skippered Emirates Great Britain to its first win since the opening regatta of Season 2 in Bermuda in April 2021.
“It’s been a long time coming but it was great to be in one of those all-classic finals with the Aussies, who are the great champion team, and look, a huge amount of respect to them,” Ainslie said. “But for us to come out, get through them and overtake them, we’ll take that.
“The team did a brilliant job all through the weekend, and I feel like we made some big gains after a frustrating period for us not quite getting the results,” Ainslie said. “Now we’ve got some momentum behind us so it was a great team effort.”
Slingsby had the lead going through the gate onto the fifth leg but Ainslie found better wind on the right side and came flying up behind Slingsby. The Aussie skipper tried to tack on top of Ainslie but the British boat went speeding past. Ainslie protested and Slingsby was penalized, but it was instantly scratched since the British had taken the lead. Ainslie kept his catamaran ahead through the final gate onto the short reach to the finish.
“When I look back at my career and these tight races with Ben Ainslie, I think I’ll look back at today pretty fondly, but I still would have loved to get the upper hand,” said Slingsby, an Olympic gold medalist and former America’s Cup champion. “The fact they hadn’t won in so long is unbelievable really. Hats off to them, they saw the opportunity and took it.”
Ainslie and Slingsby were crewmates with Oracle Team USA in 2013 when it staged an epic comeback to win the America’s Cup.
Ainslie won Sunday’s first fleet race and Slingsby reached the podium race by winning Sunday’s final fleet race. Spain’s Diego Botin, the surprise winner of the Los Angeles regatta in late July, also reached the final race but finished third.
Slingsby continues to lead the Season 4 standings after three regattas but has yet to win a regatta. He has 26 points, two ahead of Botin and three ahead of Nicolai Sehested of Denmark. Ainslie is fourth and Peter Burling of Team New Zealand is fifth. Slingsby steered Team Australia to victory in the $1 million, winner-take-all championship races in each of the first three seasons of tech tycoon Larry Ellison’s global league.
Team New Zealand couldn’t race Sunday after the shore crew was unable to repair its badly mangled wingsail, which shockingly fell apart following Saturday’s final fleet race. A replacement wing will be sent from New Zealand in time for the ROCKWOOL Italy Sail Grand Prix in Taranto on Sept. 23-24.
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