Jimmy Spithill: No shortcut in SailGP

Published on August 3rd, 2022

While Season 3 of global sports league SailGP remains young, the USA Team had hoped their slow start would have an improved trajectory in the third stop of the 11-event schedule. From the outside, that didn’t happen, but team skipper Jimmy Spithill reflects on the solid progress made over in Plymouth, UK:

It was great to be back racing in Europe for the first time this season, as SailGP hit Plymouth this weekend (July 30-31) for the Great Britain Sail Grand Prix.

Plymouth Sound is such a great venue, and it’s a natural amphitheater for the fans. There aren’t many other places like it, and even the weather held up (well, mostly), so it was cool to see so many spectators turn out to watch us fly our F50s.

I first raced in Plymouth around 10 years ago, and it’s always the same – very shifty and challenging conditions, with heaps of opportunities making for exciting racing, but always a huge turnout – especially with Ben Ainslie leading the British Team.

It was also a big opportunity for all of us at United States SailGP Team to redeem ourselves after such a frustrating home Sail Grand Prix in Chicago last month.

It’s been a long four weeks or so since we last raced, and we’ve been looking hard through the data, studying the onboard communications and our boat set-up. One of the coolest things about SailGP is that thanks to Oracle, we have an incredible depth of information at our fingertips, and there’s no hiding – the numbers don’t lie.

We invested in a new crew combination this season and knew that it would take some time to settle in.

I think a great example of this is the New Zealand Team. This is a group that has been sailing together for multiple AC Campaigns, not to mention the amazing partnership and history of Pete and Blair and their Olympic success. It’s taken that team over a season, and then some, to qualify for a podium race, which they sailed in style by winning it.

So we as a team need to put this into perspective and continue our learning curve, but more importantly, the ability to be consistent during the high-pressure racing over the weekend.

If there were a time for us to lack motivation or split apart, it would have happened. So I’m encouraged that the team is in a positive frame of mind, showing that we’re building the right culture. The debriefs and meetings are very candid and very much focused on learning and growth and how each and all of us can improve.

I think people take for granted just how high the level is in SailGP. Without doubt, it’s the most talented fleet of sailors ever assembled, and when you watch back the races, it’s clear that there are no bad teams – the level has improved since last season, and margins are even finer than usual.

I’m a big advocate for momentum and consistency. It has a major impact on performance, and I’ve seen first-hand how it can build your self-belief during my America’s Cup and match-racing days. When things are going right, it can have a sort of compounding effect – it doesn’t just strengthen you, it weakens your rivals.

But one of the toughest parts of SailGP is that, unlike most other sports, there just aren’t opportunities to practice. If you play basketball, you can always just go shoot more hoops. If you’re a football player, you grab the ball and hit the field. If you’re a swimmer, you hit the pool.

But with these crazy and intricate machines, you might get just a handful of hours of training each month in this game. It gives you a lot of thinking time but also means that you have to capitalize every minute onboard the F50. The race weeks are high pressure and high stakes, with long days on and off the water.

And whenever we get out there, we have to just send it. No hesitation – it’s the only way to sail these boats if you want to improve. But if you break something – or someone – then you put your whole event in jeopardy.

It’s a risk-versus-reward scenario that makes for fascinating racing even in the ‘practice’ events, as every team has the exact same goal.

Plymouth was a step in the right direction in terms of the racing, and we made some solid progress. I thought our boat speed was a big improvement from past events. We are making errors in key parts of the racing, and if you do that, boats will go past you. That lack of consistency really hurt us and a couple of failed maneuvers cost us.

Two teams, New Zealand and Denmark, made the final for the first time. It shows just how competitive the fleet is and that we’re all collectively chipping away at my old mate Slingers, who has been so dominant with the Aussies in the last couple of seasons.

I’m encouraged by the Kiwis’ victory as they have been working really hard to finally get there and win an event. There’s no shortcut in SailGP – you just have to keep working hard and stay honest.

Next up, we head to Copenhagen for the ROCKWOOL Denmark Sail Grand Prix on August 19-20 to kick off an action-packed three Sail Grands Prix in the next seven weeks. It will be an intense and grueling schedule, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’d go racing tomorrow if you gave me the chance.

And from a team perspective: we were in this position last season. The points will come our way if we can put together some clean races.

Plymouth Final Results
1. New Zealand, 2-2-1-5-1-(1), 44
2. Australia, 6-1-4-3-3-(2), 38
3. Denmark, 8-5-2-2-2-(3), 36
4. Great Britain, 4-4-6-1-4, 36
5. France, 3-3-5-4-9, 31
6. Canada, 1-9-3-9-7, 26
7. United States, 9-6-7-6-5, 22
8. Switzerland, 5-7-8-8-8, 19
9. Spain, 7-8-9-7-6, 14

SailGP informationPlymouth detailsSeason 3 scoreboardFacebookHow to watch

Season Three Standings (after three events)
1. Australia, Tom Slingsby – 29 points
2. Great Britain, Ben Ainslie – 24 points
3. New Zealand, Peter Burling – 22 points
4. Canada, Phil Robertson – 22 points
5. Denmark, Nicolai Sehested – 20 points
6. France, Quentin Delapierre – 15 points
7. United States, Jimmy Spithill – 13 points
8. Spain, Jordi Xammar – 8 points
9. Switzerland, Sébastien Schneiter – 7 points

2022-23 SailGP Season 3 Schedule
May 14-15, 2022 – Bermuda Sail Grand Prix presented by Hamilton Princess
June 18-19, 2022 – United States Sail Grand Prix | Chicago at Navy Pier
July 30-31, 2022 – Great Britain Sail Grand Prix | Plymouth
August 19-20, 2022 – ROCKWOOL Denmark Sail Grand Prix | Copenhagen
September 10-11, 2022 – France Sail Grand Prix | Saint-Tropez
September 24-25, 2022 – Spain Sail Grand Prix | Andalucía – Cádiz
November 12-13, 2022 – Dubai Sail Grand Prix presented by P&O Marinas
January 13-14, 2023 – Singapore Sail Grand Prix
February 17-18, 2023 – Australia Sail Grand Prix | Sydney
March 17-18, 2023 – New Zealand Sail Grand Prix | Christchurch
May 6-7, 2023 – United States Sail Grand Prix | San Francisco (Season 3 Grand Final)

Format for 2022-23 SailGP events:
• Teams compete in identical F50 catamarans.
• 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 and earn the largest share of the $300,000 prize money to be split among the top three teams.
• The season ends with the Grand Final, which includes the Championship Final Race – a winner-takes-all match race for the $1m prize.

For competition documents, click here.

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 for event prize money as the season culminates with a $1 million winner-takes-all match race.

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