Burling steers the Kiwis to victory over rival Aussies in SailGP Season 4 opener in Chicago

Peter Burling of Team New Zealand mastered tricky light winds on Lake Michigan to win a slow-speed drag race Saturday against rival Tom Slingsby and three-time defending champion Australia in the podium race of the opening regatta in Season 4 of tech titan Larry Ellison's global league. 

The Kiwis took a favorable position at the start, had the best angle to the first mark and held on for victory in the Rolex United States Sail Grand Prix off Chicago's Navy Pier. Phil Robertson steered Canada to third place on a day when the wind was so painfully light that the high-performance 50-foot catamarans weren't able to get up on their foils and speed across the tops of the waves.

Burling said that while it was stressful, it was also an "awesome way to bounce back" from the Season 3 Grand Final in San Francisco in early May, when the Aussies won their third straight $1 million, winner-take-all season championship by beating the Kiwis and the French.

"When it's light, you look around and you've got all the time in the world, but it's amazing how such a short racecourse can have so much going on," said Burling, the two-time reigning America's Cup champion helmsman and a three-time Olympic medalist. "You make one little mistake and you just get passed."

Slingsby said the Aussies were happy with their performance.

"Second place in the first event of the year, we're off to a good start," said Slingsby, an Olympic gold medalist and former America's Cup winner. "Obviously we wanted to win. We feel like we sailed really well and we had a good shot at it, but the Kiwis were better in the final race, so hats off to them."

It wasn't a stellar start to the season for British sailing star Ben Ainslie, who finished seventh, and U.S. skipper Jimmy Spithill, who was ninth in the 10-boat fleet.

Chicago was the first of four regattas during Season 4. SailGP will make its Los Angeles debut July 22-23.