When the podium race at the SailGP event in Dubai was over, not even the three teams competing knew who would be lifting the title.
The Kiwis had already had to make some smart decisions after trailing for most of the race, splitting the course midway through and continuing that tactic on the penultimate leg.
That proved to be a masterstroke from the team, as it was Peter Burling’s crew who earned the right to round the final marker first, ultimately being awarded a very confusing win.
All three teams came to the final gate at the same time. While the Kiwis had the right of way, Canada were on the outside of the Australians and had to give both teams room. They didn’t and crossed the finish line first, but were penalised for failing to give way.
That left the teams waiting on an umpire’s decision as to the result of the race, with the Kiwis ultimately awarded the win.
“It was a little bit of a nailbiter wasn’t it?” Burling said after the race.
It was only the New Zealand team’s second podium race of the season – following their event win in the season opener in Chicago – but they again showed how much of a threat they can be from any position in those three-team shootouts.
It was a result that puts the team back on track after a rough European leg, during which they had their 29m wingsail collapse and rule them out of a full day’s racing during the French event. The following event in Taranto saw them ruled out entirely due to damage to their boat, and they were given fifth place for that one.
Sunday’s racing was the first time since that moment that the 29m wing had been used, with the light airs in Dubai calling for the bigger sail.
The Kiwis, who qualified for the podium race as the top-seeded team following the five 10-team fleet races over the weekend, got off to a poor start. All three teams were slow out of the starting gate, but the Kiwis found themselves stuck behind Australia and Canada and having to get creative to make up some ground.
No team ever pulled away from the other two. While Australia – being helmed by Jimmy Spithill on a one-off occasion as Tom Slingsby is on paternity leave but expected back in Abu Dhabi early next year – led most of the way, both Canada and New Zealand were on their tails the whole way.
Ultimately, the New Zealanders’ decision to race on the opposite side of the course to the other two made the difference as they claimed the win in arguably the tightest finish in the league’s history. The Kiwis won the race despite having to make the most manoeuvre, with nine turns to Australia’s seven and Canada’s six.
The race was likely the final time we’ll see Spithill at the wheel in SailGP, with the veteran helmsman announcing his retirement from the league after the final in Dubai.
Spithill has been sailing with the US team for the past two and a half seasons, but was booted from his role before the Dubai event as a new ownership group took charge of the team and wanted American sailor Taylor Canfield at the helm.
Spithill plans to set up an Italian team for next season, but said he will be a part of that team only as chief executive and that it was time “to let some new talent come through”.
Christopher Reive joined the Herald sports team in 2017, bringing the same versatility to his coverage as he does to his sports viewing habits.