Peter Burling has voiced his frustrations at the layout of the racecourse for this weekend’s SailGP event in Abu Dhabi, with the racing being all but decided by the second mark.
SailGP introduced a new element to racing for the event, with a second reaching mark added to the start of the race essentially meaning the teams play follow-the-leader through the first two legs before things open up to allow for proper racing.
It makes the already important starts even more crucial, as a poor start will see a team out the back and sailing in disturbed air with almost no hope of climbing back up through the fleet - particularly with conditions as light as they were.
After the opening day of racing, in which he steered the New Zealand team to a win, a last and a second, Burling said the configuration of the racecourse wasn’t ideal.
“I don’t think any of the skippers out here would tell you we love sailing that double reach configuration,” the New Zealand team’s driver said.
“It just seems like when you get to mark one that’s you for the race.”
The change was made in a bid to provide a bit more excitement for the fans, with SailGP chief executive Sir Russell Coutts noting in his pre-event Russell Report an additional reaching mark at the start of the race meant racing would take place much closer to the grandstands.
However, Burling’s comments were backed up by Australian helmsman Tom Slingsby, who said he didn’t agree with the change.
“I know it might be good for the crowd on the shore, but for the racers, it feels like a bit of a parade with no overtaking lanes, so that’s a bit frustrating,” Slingsby said.
The teams sailed with just four crew and used the 29-metre wing on the opening day of racing due to the light winds, but that still wasn’t enough to see the fleet get up and foiling.
The majority of racing was done with the F50 catamarans in H1 displacement mode, with one hull in the water and the other hovering above it. It was a sleepy start to SailGP’s tenure in Abu Dhabi, with the site set to host the league’s grand final from season five and beyond.
The Kiwis, who have historically sailed well in light conditions, found a way to make the best of the situation as they jumped off the starting line in the weekend’s opening race to lead around the first marker.
That was all she wrote for the opening race, with the Kiwis cruising in clean air at the front of the pack. It was a different story in the second race as they got out of position and sailed the whole race at the back.
But they didn’t make a habit of it. Another strong start saw them contesting the lead at mark one, but Spain were able to beat them there and take the lead. The Kiwis fought to find a way through but finished second, to end day one second on the leaderboard.
Christopher Reive joined the Herald sports team in 2017, bringing the same versatility to his coverage as he does to his sports viewing habits.
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