By Alexander Smith
LONDON (Reuters) – Whoever wins SailGP’s inaugural $1 million prize, one thing is certain for Australian friends and rivals Tom Slingsby and Nathan Outteridge, they’ve agreed to stand each other a drink.
With four of the five events in SailGP’s debut season completed, Slingsby’s Australian team tops the leaderboard and qualifies for the winner-takes-all match race between state-of-the-art F50 catamarans, which appear to “fly” on foils above the water.
His closest rival among the five other national teams competing in SailGP is Japan, led by Outteridge, who only have to complete one fleet race off Marseille in southern France in order to join Slingsby in this weekend’s final.
“Nathan and I will always get along, it doesn’t matter if there is money on the table. At the end of this million dollar race nothing will change,” Slingsby told Reuters by telephone ahead of this week’s practice races in Marseille.
“We will just buy each other a drink,” Slingsby said, after joking about whether it was for the winner or loser to do so.
Described by some as sailing’s equivalent of Formula One, SailGP was launched by former America’s Cup winners Larry Ellison and Russell Coutts.
Racing began between teams representing Australia, China, France, Japan, the United Kingdom and United States in February in Sydney.
The series, which was also raced in New York, San Francisco and Cowes on the south coast of England, has been bankrolled by Ellison after his Oracle Team USA America’s Cup team lost the “Auld Mug” to Emirates Team New Zealand in Bermuda in 2017.
Slingsby, whose crew became the first to break the 50 knot (92.6 km per hour) barrier during racing in the Cowes leg, says Ellison’s backing has been key to getting sponsors on board.
“None of this would have happened without Larry Ellison …sponsors are seeing it is actually happening,” he said, adding that global audience figures were growing.
“For our first year it has been a real success.”
‘A LOT AT STAKE’
Spectators in Marseille can expect more close-quarter racing between the towering catamarans in the final fleet event and then a fast-paced tactical battle in the head-to-head finale.
Assuming his Japanese team progresses to the head-to-head final as anticipated, Outteridge’s focus will be on increasing their aggression and getting the better of Slingsby’s crew from the start in what he expects to be just a 10-minute race.
“Tom will happily take the fight to another team …I’m expecting them to come out pretty hard in the match race,” Outteridge told Reuters by telephone.
“If we can increase our aggression, we can take it (the race) to him,” Outteridge said of the million-dollar final.
“There’s a lot at stake in a short period of time.”
Whoever ends up buying the beers, both skippers say they will be splitting the million dollar prize among their teams.
(Reporting by Alexander Smith; editing by Jason Neely)