New Zealand wins Emirates Dubai Sail Grand Prix in dramatic photo finish

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New Zealand wins Emirates Dubai Sail Grand Prix in dramatic photo finish

Abdul Basit

The New Zealand SailGP Team, led by Peter Burling, secured a remarkable come-from-behind victory in the Emirates Dubai Sail Grand Prix presented by P&O Marinas, marking one of the most fiercely contested finals in SailGP history.

In an exhilarating final race where the stakes were high, the lead fluctuated constantly. As the race reached its conclusion, the situation became chaotic with all three finalists – New Zealand, Canada, and Australia – racing side by side, mere meters away from both the shoreline and the finish line. The outcome was shrouded in uncertainty, leaving everyone unsure of the winner.

Phil Robertson’s Canada SailGP Team initially seemed to have the advantage as it surged ahead in front of an enthusiastic Dubai crowd. However, Robertson received a penalty for not allowing Australia, steered by Jimmy Spithill standing in for the regular driver Tom Slingsby, enough space to navigate around the final mark. Despite crossing the finish line first, victory slipped away from Canada, and the Kiwis claimed the win in the closing moments.

This dramatic conclusion capped off an eventful day on the waters of Mina Rashid. The Emirates GBR team, led by Ben Ainslie, clinched an event win in the opening race, putting them on track for a spot in the final. However, disaster struck in race five, forcing the Brits to exit the race early and dashing their hopes of victory in Dubai.

In a bold move, Taylor Canfield, the new driver for the USA SailGP Team and a two-time world match racing tour champion, aggressively held off one of the sport’s top athletes at the start. Canfield closed the gap at the start line, effectively shutting out the Brits. Although Ainslie managed to proceed, he was swiftly disqualified by the umpire for the maneuver, mirroring a similar fate suffered by the Germans the day before.

Ainslie said: “It was a difficult way to end for us. We had a really good first race. The team did a great job and that second start we were in pole position and it was 50-50 with the USA. They were gunning to try and shut us out and eventually the umpires decided that was the case. It was a really tough call for us because I felt we were sailing well in the second half of yesterday and today we were going well with the bigger wing. But that’s sport. Sometimes it’s going to go against you and you just have to take it on the chin.”

Another big upset among the fleet was with Quentin Delapierre’s France SailGP Team. Having placed second in two of the races over the weekend, ‘Les Bleus’ were almost certain to line up in the Grand Final. However, they hadn’t counted on Spithill raining on their parade. Racing for his home country Australia for the first time since 2001, Spithill just needed to get past one boat to guarantee the Aussies a place in the final. In the dying minutes of the race and fighting out at the back of the fleet, he managed to pick off the Spanish to secure a place in the final, knocking out the French in the process.

Due to light wind conditions yesterday, SailGP’s CEO Sir Russell Coutts offered teams the choice of the 24 or 29 meter wing for the final race day in Dubai, another first for the league. The 29 meter wing has been out of use across the entire fleet since the wing failure of the New Zealand SailGP Team in Saint-Tropez earlier this season. After an hour of deliberation, the ten national teams collectively decided to race with the larger wing to give the F50s extra power in the forecasted light winds.

New Zealand driver Peter Burling said: “With the collapse of our wing, we feel like we missed two events of the European leg so it’s really hard to get back into the league. I’m proud of the team for getting this wing back up, getting over the incident in Saint-Tropez and carrying on. We made a mistake at the start box and stayed at the back but we managed to get to the inside at the bottom and we’re stoked to walk away with a win.”

For Spithill – who had a turbulent run into the event, having left the United States team, announced his own Italian team and then reappeared as driver for the Aussies – it was a fitting end to his SailGP sailing career.

Spithill said: “Coming into this event, I didn’t want to make too many mistakes for the Aussies, I just wanted to get a solid result and I think that’s what we accomplished. For me, I’m finished now as a SailGP athlete, this being my final event. It’s come full circle because over 20 years ago now I started with Australia, that’s the last time I represented Australia, so to close it out with a team like this is a good feeling. I’ll be heavily involved in the Italy SailGP Team, but it’s time for a new generation and a new young gun to come through.”

With the conclusion of the Emirates Dubai Sail Grand Prix presented by P&O Marinas comes the end of the global league’s first of many Race for the Future takeovers, which highlighted SailGP’s ongoing commitment and passion to climate action with COP28 taking place in the iconic city at the same time. The takeover showcased how the league races for Impact, Innovation, Inclusivity and Clean Energy solutions.

Fans don’t have long to wait for their next fix of SailGP. The next stop is in a month’s time when the league remains in the UAE and goes to Abu Dhabi for the seventh event of Season 4. The Mubadala Abu Dhabi Sail Grand Prix presented by Abu Dhabi Sports Council takes place on January 13-14.

EMIRATES DUBAI SAIL GRAND PRIX PRESENTED BY P&O MARINAS//FINAL STANDINGS //

1 // New Zealand 10 points

2 // Australia 9 points

3 // Canada 8 points

4 // France 7 points

5 // Emirates GBR 6 points 

6 // ROCKWOOL Denmark 5 points

7 // Switzerland 4 points

8 // United States 3 points

9 // Germany 2 points

10 // Spain 1 point

SAILGP SEASON 4 CHAMPIONSHIP STANDINGS (after six events) //

1 // Australia 52 points

2 // ROCKWOOL Denmark 41 points

3 // New Zealand 40 points 

4 // Emirates GBR 38 points

5 // United Stated 35 points

6 // Spain 33 points 

7 // Canada 32 points

8 // France 31 points

9 // Switzerland 15 points 

10 // Germany 10 points

– abdulbasit@theuaenews.com