Spithill skippers Aussies into lead in SailGP's Dubai regatta while new-look Team USA is last

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Fill-in skipper Jimmy Spithill steered Team Australia's “Flying Roo” foiling catamaran to finishes of third, first and third Saturday and into the lead of the Emirates Dubai Sail Grand Prix.

The three-time defending SailGP champion Aussies are in position for their first regatta win of Season 4. Despite not having a victory this season, they came into this regatta with a seven-point lead in the season standings of tech tycoon Larry Ellison's global league.

Spithill is subbing for friend and countryman Tom Slingsby, who is on paternity leave. Spithill left Team USA two weeks ago ahead of the announcement that it had been sold to a private American group whose investors include Alabama linebacker Dallas Turner and actress Issa Rae.

The new-look Team USA, with Taylor Canfield on the helm, had a disappointing debut by going 8-9-9 on the Persian Gulf to sit in last place in the fleet of 10 identical 50-foot wing-sailed catamarans.

Slingsby has skippered the Aussies to victory in three straight season championships, each bringing a $1 million prize. That prize has been increased to $2 million this season.

“It felt great," Spithill said. “You can definitely see this is a benchmark team in the league. They are a very slick team. I am just trying to get in there and not make too many mistakes. It is a great group and a great atmosphere.”

Spithill rebounded from a rough practice race day Friday, when the Aussies finished eighth.

“I didn’t expect to be leading after how things went in practice,” he said. "I had an absolute shocker and spent a fair bit of time last night going through and getting myself back up to speed again. I felt like we took some good steps today. Tomorrow will be a different day.”

Spithill is best known for steering Ellison's Oracle Team USA to consecutive America's Cup victories. He was co-helmsman of Italy's Luna Rossa Prada Pirelli Team, which lost the 2021 America's Cup match to defending champion Emirates Team New Zealand. He plans to start an Italian SailGP team for Season 5 that will begin following the 37th America's Cup next October.

After two more fleet races, the top three boats advance to the podium race.

The Aussie crew, full of America's Cup and Olympic veterans, has 26 points, followed by New Zealand and Canada with 21 and Emirates Great Britain and France with 20 apiece. Team USA has only seven points, one behind Germany, which was disqualified from the second fleet race for trying to barge in at the start.

Spithill had a convincing win in the second fleet race aboard the “Flying Roo,” which has a large gold kangaroo on the wingsail. New Zealander Phil Robertson steered Canada to victory in the first race while Sir Ben Ainslie took advantage of a mistake by the French to win the third race. Robertson signed wing trimmer Paul Campbell-James when he became available after Team USA shuffled its crew lineup.

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