SailGP, Formula One’s extreme version of yacht racing, ended its second season yesterday, with the Australian team claiming the championship over teams from Japan and the United States. The final weekend of the series involved multiple collisions, challenging winds and even a whale at the racetrack that forced a restart of the final championship race.
SailGP uses 50-foot F50 racing boats that can reach speeds of 61 mph. Add in the precise turning skills of the boats, the athleticism of the five racers who have to cross the boat at over 55 mph, the racing maneuvers and white-knuckle crashes, and the sport has drawn gatherings of thousands of spectators for his 10 runs. series around the world.
The SailGP series was created as an alternative to the much slower sport of monohull racing, modeled after other professional sports franchises such as the NFL and MLB with dedicated teams from different countries.
Despite the teams racking up points throughout the season, last weekend’s series was a winner-takes-all event.
After two days of racing, Tom Slingsby’s Australia SailGP was victorious. The lead-up to the final race was defined by two dramatic collisions: rookie Spanish pilot Jordi Xammar crashed into the stern of the American team’s catamaran, ripping a hole in it. That forced the US team to attempt frantic repairs in the water before the Grand Final. In another race, the French and New Zealand teams also collided.
“They can sail four times faster than the wind,” said America’s Cup guru and SailGP founder Russell Coutts. robb report recently. “There is an element of danger that we are not trying to disguise.”
In the final race, Team USA took an early lead, but the race was abandoned after a whale was sighted on the course. On the restart, Australia took the lead and dominated throughout. The team claimed a $1 million prize for the season. “More important than the money is that Australia won and we can call ourselves the best in the world,” said Slingsby after the race. “Money comes and goes and glory lasts forever, I know it’s a saying, but we really feel it right now.”
Jimmy Spithill, the US team leader, was disappointed but friendly. “At the end of the day, you really have to give the Australians credit. They have been the reference team all season and come back and do it consecutively. It’s very impressive, they deserve the win,” he said at the post-event press conference.
Part of SailGP’s mission is to promote ocean protection, thus restarting the race when the whale appeared, and sustainability. A major secondary contest that took place during the season was the Impact League, which measured each team’s sustainability efforts, from the carbon footprint of their boats, to how they travel to events, to measuring their use of plastic.
The New Zealand team claimed the Impact League title, presenting the $100,000 prize to the Live Ocean Foundation. Great Britain and Australia won $35,000 and $15,000 respectively for second and third place, donating the money to their Race to the Future partners.
The third season of SailGP will kick off in Bermuda on May 14-15. Ten teams, including newcomers Switzerland and Canada, will participate in the third season. Events have been scheduled in Chicago, Plymouth, Copenhagen, Saint-Tropez, Cádiz-Andalusia, Dubai, Christchurch, repeating the final in San Francisco.