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New Zealand wins home leg of SailGP; takes series lead as Australia crashes

CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand (AP) — New Zealand won its home leg of the SailGP series on Sunday to take the overall series lead from Australia who collided with a mark in the first fleet race of the day and took no further part in the event.

By winning the ninth leg of the series New Zealand moved one point ahead of Australia in the championship standings with only two events remaining in Bermuda and Halifax before the series final in New York in June.

The latest leg on Lyttelton Harbour near Christchurch on the South Island was condensed to three fleet races before New Zealand, France and Canada raced in the event final. Three fleet races were scheduled for the first day Saturday but none could be sailed because of the presence of endangered dolphins on the race course.

Lyttelton Harbour is a habitat of the endangered Hector’s dolphin and the event protocols prevented racing from taking place if dolphins were sighted on or near the course. No dolphins affected racng on Sunday.

New Zealand, France and Canada each won one of the fleet races sailed Sunday to qualify for the final in which New Zealand beat France by 12 seconds.

Australia sustained damage when it collided with a mark near the start of race one and was unable to continue in the event.

New Zealand sailed cleanly throughout the day, often choosing to race out of phase with the remainder of the fleet to avoid the danger of a collision.

There were multiple collisions in the first race which was won by New Zealand. New Zealand started at the back of field in the second and third races but showed speed to sail through the field into fourth place in the second race won by Canada and second in third race won by France.

The third race was thrilling as several teams vied for a place in the final. Only the top three teams contest the final and the winner is crowned the event champion, taking 10 points in the overall series standings.

France, Canada, Spain and Germany led early in the third race before New Zealand closed into fourth place at the fifth gate and finally moved up into second.

New Zealand won the start in the final and led around the course. Canada was second early but lost ground when it split with the fleet on the third of seven legs.

Racing was watched by more than 22,000 spectators in the viewing area on shore, making the event the largest ticketed sailing event in history.

“It doesn’t get any better than this, a race weekend win at home,” New Zealand wing trimmer Blair Tuke said. “Beautiful conditions, great crowd.

“After yesterday’s disappointment for everyone, we’re so stoked to put on a good show today. We said we’d do it and we’ve done it.”

The race win was the third in succession for New Zealand driver Peter Burling who steered the New Zealand boat into first placings in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. He missed the eighth leg in Sydney due to parental leave and New Zealand finished second in his absence in an event won by Australia.

The SailGP series is in its fourth year and involves 10 teams racing identical high-tech foiling F50 catamarans that can reach speeds of around 50 knots (57 mph).

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