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The first Chicago Sail Grand Prix was designed as a NASCAR on the water – and unlike Team USA, the first day of action did not disappoint.

But on a brutal race day, perfect for navigating the Windy City, Australia faces an uphill battle to start the season after finishing the day in fourth place.

Canada (27 points) were almost flawless, winning two of three races, while Great Britain (26) and New Zealand (23) were consistent and strong on the starting line to hold a narrow lead on Australia (21).

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Tom Slingsby’s Australian crew suffered a start line blitz, where they were handed a controversial penalty before they even crossed the start line in the opening race.

The decision left Australia on their backs from the start, where they finished seventh before rallying in race two finishing second before a late push in race three saw them propel New Zealand to the third place in the last race of the day.

Slingsby, who ruffled feathers at his press conference a day earlier when speaking openly about the confidence of the crew following their stellar form, was infuriated by the initial penalty drama, which led Australia to struggle all day.

“We didn’t come off the line so well,” the Olympic gold medalist told foxsports.com.au.

“In race one we got a penalty, I have to look at the footage, but I don’t understand why we got that penalty which meant we all had to slow down on the line.

“We got a good one in the second and the third we got off to a bad start. We must do better.

“It’s really tricky with the way they have the dividing wall and the very limited space, but we have to figure out how to do better.”

As Australia struggled to get out of the blocks, freshman addition Canada was fantastic.

The Private Canadians, who are skippered by New Zealander Phil Robertson, timed their runs across the start line perfectly as they raced back several miles to fly over the start line.

The Fleet in action on Race Day 1. Photo: Bob Martin for SailGP. Image of document provided by SailGPSource: Supplied

But with conditions expected to be mild on day two, Australia won’t necessarily copy Canadian tactics.

“It’s often not as simple as just copying the other team,” Slingsby said.

“They started from the back and came quickly, it works well if nobody gets in your way or tries to hold you back.

“I think we have a target on our backs and if we try to make those kinds of starts people are going to target us and try to keep us out.

“We were trying to make low-risk starts, but that didn’t work out very well.”

Nina Curtis – the first female crew member in the competition’s history – said Slingsby was “excited” from the start, but added the defending champions were excited by the challenge of making a second day’s charge in front of a massive crowd at Navy Pier.

“I just think we spent too much time talking to the referees today,” she said.

“We like to stay out of trouble and we just got dragged into a few situations and that’s probably the nature of the course, it’s tight with an extra squad.

“We have a target on our backs with the level of success we’ve had recently.

“But we like challenges – it’s great.”

The Australia SailGP team was led by Tom Slingsby. Photo: Bob Martin for SailGP. Image of document provided by SailGPSource: Supplied

British skipper Sir Ben Ainslie said his pre-race barbs, where the five-time Olympic medalist called out Australia’s supposed arrogance, helped start a fire inside.

“It helps a bit,” he said.

“They sailed very well and their results proved it, but when people start talking about having this incredible aura and as a competitor you’re like, ‘Well fuck that’.”

“We’re not sitting here to come second, so you want to fight back a bit, which is good.”

Meanwhile, Australian-born American skipper Jimmy Spithill said his crew needed to do more for the local fans after a horrific day of racing where they finished last in the standings.

“We are really disappointed. Surely all fans deserve better,” Spithill said.

“The main flaw of the team was their inability to run clean laps. It’s as simple as that. There were too many mistakes and too many mistakes.

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