Phil Robertson led Team Canada to its first SailGP win on Sunday by recovering from a penalty late in the podium race in Christchurch to deny Peter Burling and Team New Zealand victory on home waters.
Robertson, a New Zealander himself, aggressively sailed his 50-foot catamaran in a three-boat final to win the New Zealand Grand Prix, the penultimate regatta in Season 3 of tech tycoon Larry Ellison’s global league.
Two-time defending SailGP champions Team Australia, who finished third in the podium race, and Team New Zealand remain 1-2 in the season standings heading into the $6-7 million final regatta in San Francisco on May 6-7. The grand final is winner-takes-all among the top three boats.
But the win was huge for Canada, who are in their first season in SailGP. The Canadians reached the podium in the first two regattas of the season, but did not reach another final race until Sunday. Their wingsail was broken and the platform damaged during a severe storm that hit just after the end of the race at the previous regatta in Sydney on 18 February. The rest of the regatta was cancelled, and the damage was repaired in time for this regatta.
The Canadian crew hooted and hollered as their catamaran held off the Kiwis heading for the finish, then had their first champagne celebration on board.
“It’s great. I’m so stoked to win at home,” said Robertson, who sailed in front of several family members. “It’s great, great especially for me. I have good friends on the coast. I haven’t raced here before so I thrilled. For Canada, it’s just amazing. This team is pretty new and pretty fresh and we’ve been working hard to be competitive with all these top teams. Today is just an example of what we can do when we put it all together.”
Australia, skippered by Olympic gold medalist and former America’s Cup champion Tom Slingsby, leads the standings with 84 points. The Australians will sail away for their third consecutive million dollar check, barring serious damage to their catamaran or a hefty fine. The Kiwis are second with 73 points. France is third with 69 and Emirates UK is fourth with 68. Denmark has 60 and Canada 59 in a fleet of nine boats.
Slingsby, in fifth place after Saturday’s three fleet races, won Sunday’s two fleet races wire-to-wire to earn a spot on the podium. Canada entered the race for the podium one point ahead of Britain.
Robertson led Burling, the current skipper of the two-time America’s Cup champions, on the final leg downwind before drifting over the line, drawing a penalty that forced him behind the Kiwis. But Robertson kicked the penalty and had more speed going into the end goal and then a short reach to finish.
“I think you’ve seen it the whole time, but we haven’t put it all together so it’s nice to put the whole package together and get that last race,” Robertson said. “We tried well to let the Kiwis get back into it but we were strong. The limit penalty must have been half a meter or something more. We managed to scrub it out and stay flat and get to the bottom quickly, such happy days.”
Slingsby said it is expensive to be right behind the Canadians who are closing in on the first grade in the race for the podium.
“We needed another five meters to roll over Canada and then it would have been a different story. We would have made it a point to mark one like in the first two races and there is a good chance we would have continued with that,” he said. “Unfortunately, we weren’t able to get it. We got the luff and moved from second to third place. Just hard. Two good teams, they will be hard to catch.”
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