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SailGP: Culpability in a crash

Published on May 29th, 2021

Accidents are part of auto racing, with mistakes often impacting not just the driver but nearby cars as well. The best way to avoid a crash is to be in first, a reality the United States SailGP were reminded of when they suffered a regatta ending collision at the opening event of SailGP Season 2.

It was just minutes into the fourth race of the Bermuda Sail Grand Prix when the US Team led by Jimmy Spithill was in third place, in a position to challenge for the podium overall and earn a place in the finals.

But within seconds, the team’s fate changed dramatically as the Japan SailGP Team, led by Nathan Outteridge, collided into the side of the American F50 at a closing speed of approximately 54 knots, destroying the steering system which resulted in a catastrophic capsize that ended the team’s event.

After arriving on the dock immediately after racing, Outteridge came to Spithill to apologize and, after reviewing the final standings, both were shocked to learn that the U.S. SailGP Team (as well as Japan) had been assigned the maximum penalty for the collision which, in turn, resulted in the team dropping to last place overall.

“We reviewed the footage for days,” said Spithill. “When you watch the replay and listen to the comms, you can’t argue that Japan didn’t know a collision was possible almost a minute ahead of time.

“Watching the USA onboard cameras, we got flung like ragdolls. We simply didn’t know or expect them to tack and turn so slowly. On these boats, at these speeds, there is no reaction time.”

Fast forward to two weeks after the end of the Bermuda event, Spithill and Outteridge together had a hearing with the SailGP Umpire Team to argue that the maximum penalty assigned to the USA was not only unfair, but also potentially set a precarious precedent that could be exploited.

The umpire response:
“Having concluded that both boats broke Rule 14 [all boats are responsible for avoiding collisions] we looked again at what further actions the jury may take through the contact and damage policy which was designed to help reach a prompt conclusion in a pressure situation during the broadcast window.

“Currently this process gives us no discretion as to the penalty no matter what the relative culpability of each boat is, which in this case we do feel is harsh on the USA but we don’t feel that with the current rules and policies we can or should change those rules and policies after the fact.”

In summary: equal responsibility. Both teams are prosecuted with maximum penalty with no chance for redress.

“Ultimately, we race at the discretion of the umpires and the rules by which we compete,” continued Spithill.

“My mind has kept replaying that moment when we went from fighting for the podium to being wiped out of the competition, but the bigger part of me wonders how this affects racing when an unsolicited penalty can kick you further out of the competition you already were taken out of?

“At the end of the day, it’s obviously disappointing, but our best response will be a good result next week in Italy. If there is anything good to come from this, it’s that an opportunity now exists to improve the rules going forward on the circuit in conjunction with the officials and umpires.”

The Italy Sail Grand Prix, the second stage of the eight event 2021-22 season, takes place June 5-6, 2021.

SailGP informationTaranto detailsFacebook

Format for SailGP events:
• Each event runs across two days.
• There are three races on each day, totaling six races at each event.
• The opening five fleet races involve every team.
• The final match race pits the three highest ranking teams against each other to be crowned event champion.
• The season ends with the Grand Final, which includes the Championship Final Race – a winner-takes-all match race for the $1m prize.

SailGP Season 2 Schedule*
April 24-25, 2021 – Bermuda Grand Prix
June 5-6, 2021 – Italy Grand Prix – Taranto
July 17-18, 2021 – Great Britain Grand Prix – Plymouth
August 20-21, 2021 – ROCKWOOL Denmark Grand Prix – Aarhus
September 11-12, 2021 – France Grand Prix – Saint-Tropez
October 9-10, 2021 – Spain Grand Prix – Andalusia
January 29-30, 2022 – New Zealand Grand Prix – Christchurch
March 26-27, 2022 – United States Grand Prix – San Francisco (Season 2 Grand Final)
*Subject to change

2021-22 Teams, Helm
Australia, Tom Slingsby
Denmark, Nicolai Sehested
France, Billy Besson
Great Britain, Ben Ainslie (alternate – Paul Goodison)
Japan, Nathan Outteridge
New Zealand, Peter Burling (alternate – Arnaud Psarofaghis)
Spain, Jordi Xammar (alternate – Phil Robertson)
United States, Jimmy Spithill

Established in 2018, SailGP seeks to be an annual, global sports league featuring fan-centric inshore racing in some of the iconic harbors around the globe. Rival national teams compete in identical F50 catamarans with the season culminating with a $1 million winner-takes-all match race.

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