The fifth and final round of the SailGP Series, which is contested on innovative F50 15m foiling catamarans, was held in Marseille, France from September 20-22. While the main contenders for the series cup and $1 million prize remained unchanged throughout the season, the teams had plenty of surprises for their fans.
The intrigue that was to unfold in 8 fleet races and a duel of the two best teams of the season was more than enough for the start of the stage.Will the head of the standings, Tom Slingsby of Australia, will the gusty and choppy Marseille winds cause the team tolose, as they did in the USA? Will Japan's Nathan Outteridge, the second placed crew, be able to win the top prize after beating their archrivals, the Australians?
The gap between the leading teams after four legs was a measly 4 points.
The fate of third place was by no means sealed. The British team of Dylan Fletcher could win 4 points in the last phase and overtake the American team of Rome Kirby.
The upcoming races were also responsible for the French team of Billy Besson, the hosts of the stage. No one would be likely to want to repeat the fate of the Britons who had their catamaran seriously damaged during the very first race in front of thousands of compatriots at the home stage.
On the first day, the Japanese team won two of the three races. In the only race of the day, the second which failed for Nathan Outridge's team, the Japanese were edged out in the bottom three by the Chinese led by Phil Robertson.
The Australians showed 2-1-2 arrivals.
The 3-2-3 result allowed Dylan Fletcher's British team to lead the Americans by 5 points and take third place in the standings at the end of the first day. However, this was not only due to the triples. During the first race a problem with foils forced the American catamaran to pull out of the race. Repairs dragged on until the third race. When the Rowma Kirby crew did return to the start line, the team was not able to quickly adapt to the weather conditions and lost out to their rivals who spent the entire day on the water.
The stakes grew, and the second day of the regatta proved to be much tighter. The fourth race of the stage seemed destined to force fans of the French team to take a sedative. Billy Besson's crew, who had made a good start the day before but unfortunately could not hold on to the lead in any way, finally held firmly in front, not letting the Chinese catamaran close. So, to the delight of the fans, it continued throughout the first half of the race.
However, on the third leg of the course, Japan took the lead and the Australians rose from the tail of the fleet to third place. Good tactics allowed Tom Slingsby's crew to go as much as 265 metres short of the Japanese in this section. When Nathan Outridge's crew made a mistake on the third rounding, the Australians were able to take the lead of the fleet.
The race could have ended in at least third place for the French team, but there was no such thing. At the finish line the Chinese catamaran, which had been trailing all the race, was still able to overtake its rival.
In the next race, the Chinese team was already celebrating their victory. Throughout the season, the crew had never before managed to finish first.
The sixth race of the fleet, the last full race, turned into a drifting catamaran race. When the teams were in the middle of the course, the wind died down and all they had to do was keep a sharp eye out for approaching gusts. The Japanese team has been renowned throughout the season for its excellent wind forecasting skills, a skill that seems to have played a pivotal role this time. Nathan Outridge's crew won the race. «The Australian and French crews finished next,». They got revenge on their rivals from China by overtaking them at the very finish. But at the end of the same race, the French were penalized one point for making contact with an Australian catamaran.
The success of the Chinese team, who finished in the top three in 3 of the 6 races, did not go in vain. At the end of the second day, the crew shared third place with the Brits in the overall standings for the season. Both teams scored 162 points each, leaving the Americans 7 points behind. Thus, the last day in Marseille was to decide the fate not only of the first and second, but also of the third place.
Because of a weak wind to determine the bronze medalist of the series it was possible to hold only one, and not two races as originally wished. The Australian and Japanese teams did not participate in it - they had their own, separate match race waiting for them.
The Americans and Chinese led the race in the first two sections, but the situation changed in the second half of the race. First the French team managed to overtake the F50 from the USA, and after the last round to the cheering roar of the crowd on the shore, they took the lead.
The British catamaran was the last to finish, which meant «bronze» of the SailGP series went to China.
By far the highlight of the day was the highly anticipated duel between the Japanese and Australian teams. The match race started badly for Tom Slingsby who was dreaming of a good start. The Australian was penalised for a false start and had to start behind. They successfully used their advantage throughout the first half of the race.
Finally in the third leg the Australian managed to carve out some clean winds to take the lead. Trying to force his rival to penalise him for not complying with the divergence rules, the Japanese catamaran in second place himself lost speed. The competitors reached the finish line 13 seconds apart.
Although Nathan Outridge's team had won the round in Marseille, the Japanese team would not be champion of the series.
The second season of SailGP will start in Sydney on 28th February 2020.
The first spectators will be able to buy tickets for the regatta as early as November 1. The races of the still unknown series in February 2019 in Sydney were watched by22 thousand fans from 25 countries. One can only guess how much this figure will increase a year later.