PARIS — Victory for Ben Ainslie in a tight French SailGP final ended a long dry spell for his British team, giving them a confidence boost ahead of the next races in Italy and Spain.
Beating the league’s reigning champions Australia and an in-form Spanish crew in front of a capacity crowd on the Saint Tropez shoreline marked the first win for Ainslie since Bermuda in May 2021 and lifts him to fourth in the rankings.
Skipper Ainslie and strategist Hannah Mills — respectively the most successful male and female Olympic sailors — opted for the opposite side of the course from Tom Slingsby and his Australian crew in the final stages of the three-boat final.
They managed to gain an overlap on Slingsby’s F-50 foiling catamaran and forced a penalty, leaving the Australians in their wake as they foiled to the line.
Despite having yet to win in Season 4, Australia remain top of the championship standings, ahead of Spain and Denmark.
“We had a great ding-dong battle with the Aussies. They were in a tough spot and left the door open for the killer punch, that was the race defining moment,” Ainslie told Reuters in a telephone interview after the race.
Ainslie put the change in fortunes down in part to some “home truths” from coach Rob Wilson, which resulted in a “different vibe” on board.
“He’s been integral to pulling us through from some frustrating results, where we have had all the ingredients but not been able to string it together,” Ainslie said, adding that Wilson had focused mainly on communications and manoeuvres.
“It takes a full team effort to sail these boats well, it felt like we had a really good vibe across the team,” Ainslie said, with the aim now to maintain momentum and confidence.
“The trick now is to try to use this as a springboard for the next events in Taranto and Cadiz,” he said of the racing scheduled for September and October in Italy and Spain.
Ainslie said he was very relieved there had been no injuries as a result of the dramatic collapse of New Zealand’s 29-metre “wing” sail after Saturday’s racing, which meant Pete Burling’s crew were unable to complete the event.
“It was a really tough call for them, really unfortunate … but no one was hurt thank goodness. All of the teams in the league have had things go against them, they will be back fighting and will be a major force,” he added.