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New Zealand have the confidence to win the SailGP grand final and the statistics to back that self-belief as the season three decider is raced in San Francisco this weekend.
But first the talented stacked Kiwi crew, led by Peter Burling and Blair Tuke, have to make sure of their place in the three-boat final that has a US1m ($NZ1.61m) winner-takes-all prize.
Defending champions Australia are assured of their place in the money race such is their commanding lead in the season standings.
Mathematically New Zealand are still vulnerable though it would take a major reversal of recent form for the second-placed Kiwis to concede their four-point cushion over France with Great Britain a further point back.
There are five fleet races in California to sort out the last two positions in the final from these three teams.
Basically New Zealand need to finish fifth or better to secure their place. For the Kiwis to miss out Great Britain would need to win fleet racing, France would need to finish second and the Kiwis in sixth.
New Zealand are taking no chances, with wing-trimmer Tuke saying they are adopting a two-phase approach to the weekend.
The foiling catamarans are set for their season three finale.
“We are feeling in a really good space. It’s been a good time for us as a team coming off the back of a pretty good result in Lyttelton, so everyone is really focussed, looking at areas we can gain on, and everyone is fit and healthy,” Tuke said.
“We are definitely looking at the weekend in two stages, and we have strategies in place as the weekend develops.
“It would be easy to trip straight into the final race, but there is a bit of work to do to make sure we are actually there.
“That’s definitely the first hurdle for the weekend – the focus is on sailing a good five races for the San Fran event and if we do that we will make it into the grand final and have a shot at the big one.”
Asked for a prediction, Tuke felt they had the form over the back end of the season to really challenge for a title won by Australia in both the first two seasons of this high-paced global league sailed in foiling catamarans.
“We definitely back ourselves if we make that final race. The Aussies have a pretty good jump on us points-wise but if you dig a little deeper, we have got a good record in the finals, and our race scores are top.”
Tuke has done his research and the numbers don’t lie.
In overall fleet racing, taking into account all conditions across 10 events, New Zealand performs marginally best across the nine teams, with an average fleet rank of 3.9, in comparison to Australia’s 4.1.
In the three-boat final format, it’s a similar story with the Kiwis having an average leg rank of 1.4, in comparison to the Aussies’ rank of 2.
When it comes to results, Australia have collected seven podium positions compared to New Zealand’s five.
They each have three regatta wins, but New Zealand’s strike rate is better. The Kiwis have three from five finals, and Australia three from seven.
The Kiwis have 16 race wins overall, five more than Tom Slingby’s Australians.
New Zealand have also managed to edge Australia when it has mattered.
“We are confident we can beat whoever is in that final,” a bold Tuke said.
“Obviously the Aussies are there barring some sort of massive collision, and whether it’s the British or the French, we will back ourselves winning that final.
“But it does all come down to one race, and some pretty key moments throughout that race that we have spoken about a lot.”
As always, starts will be crucial in this fast format.
“Sure the starts are vitally important. But we are happy how we showed in Christchurch that even without a good start – it wasn’t one of our better starting weekends – we were able to claw back through the fleet which we were pretty proud of.
“Yes, it is easier if you get a good start and you can just chip away up front, but it is also good to know we can wade back through if we have to.”
Christchurch also showed the comfort New Zealand have with their own boat after a disappointing Sydney regatta before that, where they were forced to sail a borrowed cat as theirs was repaired.
“There were still a couple of things going on and we all had a really limited amount of time on the boats in Christchurch with practice short,” Tuke said.
“But all in all it’s in good shape. It has travelled well … the shore team have had an extra day putting the boat together for this event, so they are happy with that.”
Tuke said the forecast was encouraging with a decent breeze predicted, something he felt his crew could utilise. They have solid momentum from a campaign where they have made big gains over their maiden effort in season two. Now they want that momentum to transfer into these next two days.
“We want to come out and sail well. If we can do that, it will put us in good stead for the final.”
AT A GLANCE – SAILGP FINAL
Where: San Francisco
When: Sunday and Monday (9.30am NZT)
Watch: Live on Sky Sport or YouTube
Format: 5 fleet races (3 Sunday, 2 Monday) to determine San Fran winner and season standings. The top 3 teams on those season standings then contest the grand final.
At Stake: A US$1m (NZ$1.61m) winner-takes-all prize.
Defending champions: Australia
Season 3 points: Australia 84, New Zealand 73, France 69, Great Britain 68, Denmark 60, Canada 59, USA 57, Switzerland 29, Spain 29.
Are NZ vulnerable? Anything can happen in this high-paced, incident filled series. If NZ can finish fifth or better in San Fran they’ll make the final. For the Kiwis to miss out Great Britain would need to win fleet racing, France would need to finish second and the Kiwis in sixth.