Sailing: Light winds off East Coast Park ‘tricky’ for SailGP teams taking part in first Singapore event

The United States SailGP team in action during a practice race at East Coast Park ahead of the Jan 14-15 Singapore Sail Grand Prix. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

SINGAPORE – The Sail Grand Prix (SailGP) has been dubbed sea sport’s equivalent of Formula One motor racing, with high-speed machines competing in races around the world.

The similarities do not end there as far as the Singapore Sail GP is concerned.

Just as F1 drivers find it hard to overtake on the tight Marina Bay Street Circuit, several SailGP teams also find it tough to manoeuvre past other boats because of the light winds off the shores of East Coast Park, where the Singapore leg will debut this weekend.

Denmark driver Nicolai Sehested said at the pre-race press conference on Friday that it is going to be “tricky”.

He explained: “If it’s super light, it’s going to be very packed and lots of traffic and not so much about the manoeuvres. I think everyone is very focused on getting off the start line.

“If you get out on the front, it’s very hard to overtake. So most teams are pushing hard at the start and the first downwind and then from there on, it’s going to be very few passing lanes on the racecourse.”

Spain’s Jordi Xammar added: “The biggest challenge we’re facing this week are light winds, especially for this week because those boats are designed to fly mainly...

“When there’s light wind, there’s the situation of the boats flying or not flying, which makes the crossover very difficult and challenging.”

SailGP, which is into its third season, features the world’s best catamaran sailors. The Republic is the first South-east Asian country to host a leg of the US$1 million (S$1.34 million) hydrofoiling series as part of a three-year deal.

Nine teams will compete in six fleet races over two days with a top-three shoot-out – just metres from the shoreline.

It is the eighth leg of an 11-stop global championship that visits some of the world’s most iconic cities, including Christchurch, San Francisco and Sydney.

The Singapore event has not been short of action.

The New Zealand SailGP Team were docked four points in event rankings for making contact with the United States boat on the first day of practice racing on Thursday, while the third practice race on Friday was cut short because of lightning.

US team chief executive and driver Jimmy Spithill insisted that there are no favourites.

That perhaps showed after the practice races as Australia, who have won three races this season, stood eighth in the provisional standings.

With three stops left to the grand final in San Francisco, Australia are leading on 60 points, ahead of New Zealand (51) and France (50).

But Australia driver Tom Slingsby stressed that their focus was on performing well in Singapore before thinking about the grand final.

“I’ve never raced here before... Historically, light airs are a bit of a weakness of ours. This event will be crucial,” said the 38-year-old, who has won an Olympic gold, nine world championships and the America’s Cup.

“After this, we’ll head to Sydney, where we’re very comfortable, then New Zealand, where more wind is predicted and San Francisco, where it’s strong winds, so we’ll feel comfortable after this event. But we need to get through this one. If we get through this one in good shape, we can start focusing more on the final.”

Ahead of the Singapore GP, two-time America’s Cup winner Spithill praised the Republic an “awesome venue” for a race.

He said: “We’re seeing Formula One, I’ve spoken to a few of the drivers and they spoke really highly of the venue.

“Singapore itself has some pretty incredible racetracks but they probably didn’t realise that they have a great racetrack right here, right next to the downtown.

“People will see that and it’s an important part of the tour and I think we’ll see quite a few fans generated this event.”

More information on the Singapore SailGP can be found here.

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