Tom Slingsby and Australia have done the unthinkable, pulling off a miraculous comeback to win the inaugural SailGP event in Dubai, proving they are still the top dogs of world sailing.
Australia needed a miracle to make the final championship race on Sunday after a dire day in light winds on Saturday left the two-time defending champions languishing back in eighth place.
And they got just that. Australia finished fifth in race four and led from start to finish to claim victory in race five before luck fell their way when New Zealand was docked four points for making contact with Switzerland in the lead-up to the race.
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The SailGP live ladder then went into overdrive as the teams jostled for positions in the final fleet race.
Australia finished third and was equal on 37 points with New Zealand but pipped the Kiwis into the final on countback because they had won the previous race.
Australia mistimed the start in the final race against Great Britain and France, but fought back to snatch a remarkable last-gasp victory.
France took an early lead but lost all speed when they went off their foils. Great Britain then appeared headed for victory before driver Ben Ainslie also went off the foils and slowed to a crawl.
In typical fashion, Slingsby swooped and overtook Great Britain on the final corner to steal an incredible victory.
Slingsby was still in a state of shock after the race as he tried to get his head around his team’s sudden turnaround in form.
“That’s the best final we’ve been a part of,” the Australian skipper told reporters.
“I can’t wait to watch it again. That last race was all a blur.
“Two hours ago we were saying we’ve got to salvage this event so we don’t lose too many points on the Kiwis, make sure GBR and France don’t overtake in the overall points.
“We’ve gone from eighth position to first in a couple of hours. I still don’t know how it’s happened. This was unbelievable. We just kept fighting.
“We won the practice racing on Friday and we felt like we were on top of the world heading into the event.
“And then to have such a shocker yesterday, then to turn it around today — it’s a bit of an emotional rollercoaster. I’m a bit of a wreck actually.”
Slingsby admitted he was consigned to claiming second place before GBR’s blunder gifted Australia victory.
“We got into the final on countback and then the last race — honestly it’s a blur,” he said.
“I actually don’t remember what happened. I remember we didn’t get a good start. We were too early for the line. We didn’t have a good first lap.
“I just remember we all piled up at the top mark. I was kind of thinking, ‘OK we’re just going to bank this second (place)’.”
“I don’t know what happened to those guys,” Slingsby said of Great Britain.
“I assume they couldn’t get their board on the lock for the final gibe. That’s the opportunity we needed.
“We were behind the whole race and then with 10 or 15 seconds to go to the finish, we overtook and got the win. Unbelievable.”
Ainslie was gracious in defeat, congratulating Slingsby on the victory in the media mixed zone after virtually having the steering wheel trophy ripped from his grasp.
“That’s sport, that’s SailGP and hats off to the Aussies,” Ainslie said.
“I thought it was a fantastic day of racing. It’s right up there with the top races in SailGP.
“I think that’s one of the best days of sailing I’ve ever been involved in. You rip around those marks 20 to 30 metres away from the shore. I think that’s really a great showcase for sailing.”
The four-time Olympic gold medallist joked: “It was great. It had everything. Loads of interaction and then final mistake, final nail in the coffin. What more could you ask for.”
It was a heartbreaking way to finish for the Brits, who are still searching for their first event win since Bermuda back in April 2021.
“Let’s say we’ll use it as motivation to keep improving to try and knock it off at the next event in Singapore,” Ainslie said.
The result means Australia (60 points) extends its lead on top of the overall leaderboard to nine points over New Zealand (51) in second and Great Britain (50) in third.
It was Australia’s third event victory of the season, breaking a drought of sorts stretching back to wins in Bermuda and Chicago to open the season.
Slingsby said it was a reminder that when the Aussies are in full fight they are still the team to beat in SailGP.
“We know when we perform we’re hard to stop,” he said.
“Even today it wasn’t clicking all the time but we had glimpses that got us back into the points.
“We always say no one can stop us if we’re on fire. Fortunately we just got through this one and we showed we’re a scary person to have behind you in a final. We’re going to keep fighting all the way.
“It’s such an amazing team I’m part of. From the shore team to the sailors, we’re so lucky to have this group of people together. We got rewarded with world team of the year a month ago. I’m glad we can prove we deserve that.”
There are four stops remaining in SailGP season three and Australia will likely lead the championship heading into their home Grand Prix in Sydney Harbour in February.
The top three teams in the standings will head to the season finale in San Francisco in May to battle it out for the million-dollar prize
SailGP Season 3 leaderboard
1. Australia (60 points)
2. New Zealand (51)
3. France (50)
4. Great Britain (48)
5. Denmark (42)
6. Canada (40)
7. USA (39)
8. Spain (22)
9. Switzerland (16)
Story Credit: news.com.au