Burling skippers Kiwis to 2nd straight SailGP win to close gap with rival Aussies

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SAN DIEGO (AP) — Peter Burling skippered New Zealand to its second straight SailGP victory on Sunday, claiming the Mubadala Abu Dhabi Sail Grand Prix to pull closer to rival Australia in the Season 4 standings.

Burling beat Spain's Diego Botin, the leader after Saturday's first three fleet races, and Team USA's Taylor Canfield in the podium race in light wind on the Persian Gulf. Burling's rival from across the Tasman Sea, three-time defending SailGP champion Tom Slingsby of Team Australia, missed the podium race for the first time this season and finished seventh.

The Kiwis jumped from third to second in the season standings in tech billionaire Larry Ellison's global league, just six points behind the Aussies. The Americans jumped from fifth to third, 13 points off the lead. The top three teams in the 10-boat fleet at the end of the season advance to the $2 million, winner-take-all Grand Final on San Francisco Bay on July 14.

"It's been really great for our team to get a couple of wins on the board and really close up that gap to the Australians in front,” said Burling, the two-time defending America's Cup champion helmsman and a three-time Olympic medalist.

The Kiwis also won in Dubai in mid-December and have won three of seven regattas this season, with six to go.

“Getting this one on the board in challenging conditions is awesome for the team," Burling said. "I feel like we’ve been the ones so many times who have just missed the final, so to finally scrape through to one and claim the win is absolutely awesome.”

The Kiwis have rebounded from the catastrophic failure of the wingsail on their foiling catamaran at the end of the opening day of the Saint-Tropez regatta in September. That sidelined them through the following regatta, although they were awarded average points.

Slingsby easily won Sunday's first fleet race. But he mistimed the start of the second race, crossed early and was penalized, forcing him to the back of the fleet and an eventual ninth-place finish.

“Something went wrong with our software and we paid the price for it,” said Slingsby, a former America's Cup champion and Olympic gold medalist who hasn't won a regatta this season. "It does not change the strategy for us. Our big goal is to win at the end of the season, so we just need to make that final.”

The Kiwis were sixth in both races Sunday, enough to squeeze into the podium race. They had a perfect start to get the important inside track to the first mark and sailed away with the win.

Canfield steered the revamped American team into its first podium race in just the second regatta since it was purchased by a large group of investors from the sports and entertainment worlds, including actress Issa Rae and former Alabama linebacker Dallas Turner.

“It’s a little disappointing, but we made it to third place — a great result," Canfield said. “I think we are sailing the boat well and even if we are behind, we can come back in the races. It’s very new for a lot of us, some in new positions or new to the boat, so I think there is much more to come. Our results show that we have the ability to compete at the top of the grid.”

The next regatta is the KPMG Australia Sail Grand Prix on Sydney Harbor on Feb. 24-25.

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Follow Bernie Wilson on X at http://x.com/berniewilson