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The $1 million race: The passion and drama of SailGP's championship decider

15 APRIL 2021News

We have seen the founding of SailGP, the opening races of Season 1, and even the breaking of the 50-knot barrier, in SailGP: Racing on the Edge in partnership with Rolex - and now it’s time for the $1 million race.

This is what SailGP comes down to after a full season of thrilling racing, with the two highest ranked teams after the final event going head-to-head in a winner-takes-all match race for the huge financial prize.

Marseille was the location for this dramatic finale in Season 1, and the nations pitted against one another to win $1m were first place Australia and second place Japan.

This meant it was old friends Tom Slingsby and Nathan Outteridge battling for the huge prize - and pride was on the line too.

“SailGP is bragging rights for the sailors,” says broadcaster Ed Leigh in Episode 3 of Racing on the Edge. “And if you want to up those bragging rights, you add in the biggest prize in sailing into the mix.”

“Tom Slingsby had stamped his mark on the series at the very first event in Sydney, winning all but one of the races. And you’ve got to say he had most of the season his own way.

“But Nathan Outteridge had this graceful touch on the F50, and when he got it right it was spectacular.

“Both teams, at their best, were untouchable.”

But in SailGP, when untouchable takes on untouchable, there must be a winner.

And that means there must also be a loser.

This is pressure enough for even the most elite of athletes, and the $1m prize only further raises the stakes.

“There’s a lot more pressure when there is money riding [on it], because this is money for the team, all the team members, their families,” says Australian helm Slingsby. “People had planned to buy new pools if they won the money, and things like that.”

Money not only guarantees a personal prize pot, however, it also improves the chances of success further down the line.

Speaking ahead of the Grand Final, Outteridge revealed: “Outside of the personal satisfaction of winning this event, we are going to divvy up the prize money equally among everyone should we win.

“And further on that, we are going to keep a bit off the top to invest in Season 2, as we know Season 2 is going to be more difficult than Season 1.”

Unfortunately for Outteridge, his plans for the prize money went out the window as the Aussies came back from a pre-start penalty to win the Championship Final Race - and there was only 78cm in it as Japan messed up a key manoeuvre that cost them the victory and the $1m prize.

Incredibly, every centimeter of this ‘Million Dollar Moment’ cost Outteridge and Japan a huge $12,820.

This was a severe loss for Outteridge, but others suffered even worse fates as Season 1 came to a thrilling end.

“I’ve learnt with Russell Coutts and Larry Ellison that they are looking after their product of SailGP, and they know they need the best sailors in every country,” continues Aussie helm Slingsby.

“It’s ‘we want you to perform to your absolute best, and if you don’t we will find someone who will.’

“Some people don’t like that sort of thing hanging over them and they think that sort of pressure isn’t going to bring the best out of them, and that’s fine - but, for me, it does. I love the idea of if I’m not performing as well as I should, we’ve got a huge pool of sailors in Australia and I’ll get replaced.

“That keeps me training in the morning, that keeps me getting up and doing extra time on the water because I know if I’m not performing to the ability I should be I will get replaced.

“And that is good; it’s a great motivation and that’s the way I think it should be run all the time.”

But while Slingsby winning the championship was him performing to the best of his abilities and secured his role in SailGP, others did not fare so well.

Dylan Fletcher, helm for the Great Britain SailGP Team, was dropped at the end of the season

“It’s the fickleness of top sport,” says Sir Russell. “It’s tough. You have these moments sometimes that define the future, and the immediate future for Dylan was defined in those times.”

“It’s part of our sport at times,” adds Fletcher in Racing on the Edge. “You can’t always get it right. We did have some bad luck go our way, but ultimately I’m still proud of how our team sailed and how we operated that year. Even the fact we were within a shout of coming third having missed so many races just shows how much better we were in reality to those other teams.”

“I think stacking the boat so heavily in Cowes, and injuring some of the team, was a big blow,” finishes broadcaster Leigh. “But was it enough to get him thrown out?

“I think if you’d given Dylan Fletcher another year in that boat, he would be up there and contending - 100 per cent.

“But if you have a paid seat from one of the biggest names in sailing come along, how do you say no to that?”

You don’t, so it was Welcome to SailGP, Sir Ben Ainslie.

The third episode of SailGP: Racing on the Edge in partnership with Rolex is available to watch BELOW, as well as on the SailGP YouTube channel and SailGP Facebook page.