Tom Slingsby skippered two-time defending SailGP champion Team Australia to a stunning comeback victory in the Dubai Sail Grand Prix on Sunday to extend its lead in the season standings.
Slingsby and his unshakeable crew full of America’s Cup and Olympic veterans proved yet again why they are so good. They were eighth in the nine-boat fleet going into Sunday’s three fleet races, squeaked into the podium race and then benefited from a critical mistake by Britain’s Sir Ben Ainslie at the final mark to hit the finish line first.
One of the most remarkable performances in three seasons of tech billionaire Larry Ellison’s global league earned the Aussies the right to once again celebrate aboard the Flying Roo, their 50-foot foiling catamaran with a yellow kangaroo on the wingsail.
“I have no idea how we did that, to be honest,” said Slingsby, a former America’s Cup champion and Olympic gold medalist. “I would want to replicate that every race if we could because whatever we did there was pretty incredible. That final was a blur. Someone will have to explain to me sometime what happened but it was just unreal.”
The massive comeback plus a two-point penalty against their closes pursuers, their cross-Tasman Sea rival Team New Zealand, allowed the Aussies to take a 60-51 lead in the season standings. That keeps Slingsby and his mates on track for the chance to try for a third straight $1 million season championship. France is third with 50 points and Great Britain is fourth with 48.
There are four regattas left. The top three teams will qualify for the $1 million, winner-take-all Grand Final at the conclusion of the United States Sail Grand Prix in San Francisco May 6-7.
Slingsby is used to big rallies. He, Ainslie and U.S. SailGP skipper Jimmy Spithill helped rally Oracle Team USA to one of biggest comebacks in sports in the 2013 America's Cup by winning eight straight races after Emirates Team New Zealand reached match point at 8-1.
Ainslie was on track for his first SailGP regatta win since the Season 2 opener before botching his final maneuver of the podium race and ending up dead in the water. That allowed the Aussies to sail past for the victory and France to claim second.
“I think that is one of the best examples of grabbing defeat from the jaws of victory that I have seen for a very long time,” Ainslie said. “It’s hugely frustrating for the team. We had such a good weekend and just missed the final move, but that’s SailGP, that’s sport, it happens.”
The Aussies went 5-1-3 in Sunday’s fleet races. They were also aided by Team New Zealand incurring a four-point penalty for contact with the Swiss boat in Race 5, which also resulted in the two-point penalty in the season standings.
Spithill's Team USA went from second place on Saturday to finishing sixth. The Americans remain in seventh overall, 11 points out of Grand Final position.
The next regatta is in Singapore on Jan. 14-15.
Follow Bernie Wilson on Twitter at http://twitter.com/berniewilson