Racing on the Edge – The Kiwis triumphant return and farewell to Sir Ben Ainslie

LONDON – January 8, 2024 – The latest episode of Racing on the Edge, in partnership with Rolex, takes an emotional dive into two major storylines that have captivated the league in recent months. Witness the New Zealand SailGP Team’s remarkable comeback from a catastrophic wing failure to triumph in Dubai, and join Sir Ben Ainslie in his touching farewell as he steps down as Emirates GBR’s driver. The behind-the-scenes episode, now live, sets the stage for an exhilarating Mubadala Abu Dhabi Sail Grand Prix presented by Abu Dhabi Sports Council on January 13-14.

The episode begins with a flashback to the third event of Season 4 in Saint-Tropez last September, highlighting the first event win for Ainslie’s British team after a two season hiatus. Coming down to the wire – on the very last leg of the three-boat podium race – the Brits managed to master the shifty wind conditions, and in the final closing minutes of the race, overtook the Aussies in a tense battle to take its first season win. 

This win came after a shocking first day of racing when the giant wing of Peter Burling’s New Zealand SailGP Team collapsed following the conclusion of the day’s racing. Luckily, no one onboard was injured, however it did leave ‘Amokura’ out of commission, ending the Kiwi’s hopes of victory and in a tense race against the clock to get back for the remainder of the season. 

The episode then jumps to the Emirates Dubai Sail Grand Prix presented by P&O Marinas in December where predicted wind conditions for the second day of racing were less than ideal. Knowing how some of the team’s felt about using the larger wingsail following the incident, SailGP CEO Sir Russell Coutts decided to give the teams the option to choose between racing with the 24 or 29 meter wing – and with it a time limit to make the choice.

The episode captures the intense team discussions, revealing how time constraints and peer dynamics led every team to choose the 29m wing, aiming to maximize power for the event’s critical second day.

With the 29 meter wing back out in force, Emirates GBR won the first race of the day, continuing its winning streak from the day prior and looking a sure bet to make the three-boat final. However, drama was met on the start line of the second race when new-to-the-scene USA driver, Taylor Canfield, utilized the opportunity to shut out the Brits, leading to a disqualification for the Emirates GBR team. This not only ended the British team’s hopes in Dubai but for Ainslie, meant a disappointing end to his SailGP career as he would later announce that two-time Olympic gold medalist Giles Scott would take over driving duties for the rest of the season

With the Brits out of the running, New Zealand, Canada and Australia went through to the all-important event final, in what was to be the closest race in league history. At the final turning gate, right before the finish, New Zealand had the right of way, resulting in Canada being penalized for not giving enough space to both the Aussies – driven by Jimmy Spithill as Tom Slingsby was on paternity leave – and the Kiwis to turn around the mark. As the three boats crossed the finish side by side, much speculation as to who had won went on, especially as Phil Robertson’s Canada crossed the line first. However, with a penalty against the Canada team still standing, the Chief Umpire ruled the Kiwis as champions of the Emirates Dubai Sail Grand Prix presented by P&O Marinas. 

New Zealand Co-CEO and wing trimmer Blair Tuke said: “It’s been a heck of a year and Amokura has felt the brunt of it – she has fallen and stood again and when things like this happen, you have to think it’s for a bigger reason. I couldn’t be prouder or more confident in the group we have and we never gave up and kept fighting until the end. It’s such a huge moment for the team, it’s definitely the highlight of our whole existence in SailGP.” 

In the episode’s closing moments, Ainslie delivers a heartfelt address to his team, thanking them for an incredible SailGP journey, shedding light on his immense decision and outlining what his role will look like off the water.

Ainslie said: “At some point you have to realize you can’t do everything. Also, I’m coming to an age where it’s time to let the next generation come through and have their opportunity. Giles is replacing me as driver – he’s a huge talent – one of the best sailors I have ever raced against or sailed with. 

“It was a tough decision, who would fill my seat – whether that would be Giles or Hannah [Mills] – and Hannah has had some time on the wheel of the boat but not enough. She just needs more time because she is more than capable of steering one of these boats with the right time and the right preparation.”

Catch the latest Racing on the Edge episode – Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

The second of SailGP’s back-to-back UAE events commences this weekend for the first time in Abu Dhabi. The Mubadala Abu Dhabi Sail Grand Prix presented by Abu Dhabi Sports Council takes place at Mina Zayed on January 13-14 and, for the first time in SailGP history, the league will combine its action-packed racing with live entertainment featuring a special performance by global music superstars Take That. Head to SailGP.com/AbuDhabi to purchase the last remaining tickets.

ABOUT SAILGP // SailGP is the world’s most exciting racing on water. The global championship features national teams battling in short, intense races at iconic stadium-style venues across the globe. The high-tech, high-speed action features sailing’s best athletes racing in identical hydrofoiling F50 catamarans, flying at speeds approaching 100 km/h (60 mph). SailGP also races for a better future, championing a world powered by nature. Visit SailGP.com for more information.

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