Two stories will be written today – one that ends in elation and one where the final chapter is huge disappointment – the question of who writes the ending will be determined by a 10 minute, US$1 million, head to head match race.
Tom Slingsby and his Australia SailGP Team are notoriously aggressive match racers, setting speed records on the course to get ahead of their competition. A stark contrast to long-time friend, on-water rival and fellow Olympic gold medalist Nathan Outteridge, helm of the Japan SailGP Team, who is known for his highly tactical and calculated nature. Both helmsmen have plenty of match racing experience to bring to the table and both have performed at the highest level under pressure.
Today the two friends will face off at the Marseille SailGP Season 1 Grand Final. One team will earn the right to get its name engraved for the first time ever on the SailGP Championship trophy and take home the most substantial monetary prizes in the sport, US$1 million – the other will leave with nothing.
If history is anything to go by, fans can expect a hot match on the ‘Rade Nord’ racecourse between Outteridge and Slingsby. The Marseille SailGP Season 1 Grand Final has already bought some close racing between the two competitors within the fleet. The first day saw Outteridge surprise his Australian rival in a series of aggressive moves. Since then, each helmsman has managed multiple race wins in Marseille, and the atmosphere has grown more intense as the final approaches. Anticipation is high.
“There is more pressure with one million dollars on the line,” said Slingsby. “I don’t want to be the reason our team members don’t get a bonus check at the end of this year. I know we are going to have to go out there and give it our best. I’ve got full trust that all the guys next to me will give it their all too.”
SailGP’s million-dollar prize is the most substantial sum up for grabs in the sport, a whole season of racing – with events in Sydney, San Francisco, New York and Cowes – has led up to one final ten-minute match race taking place in Marseille, where the winner takes it all. The Mediterranean venue could provide a tricky racecourse that will push the two helmsman and the innovative F50 catamarans to their limits.
“What we have been doing so far at this event is working on our skills and trying to put ourselves under pressure. There are a few moments where we have put ourselves under pressure and made errors so we can’t do that in the final race,” said Outteridge. “We are very happy with our starting skills and very happy with our boat handling, but we need to find a way to keep Tom behind us. Our goal tomorrow is to do what we have been doing but keep them behind us for the race.”
One man that knows what it is like to race for this amount of money is China team helm Phil Robertson, who took home one million dollars after the 2016 World Match Race Tour. His rival for that final was Taylor Canfield, now the flight controller of the United States SailGP Team. With a massive prize purse, comes enormous pressure.
“We were just focused on sailing our best. The money is a distraction. The more you can put that out of your mind, the more you can focus on doing the simple things,” explained Robertson. “There’s a lot of chatter about the prize, and there always will be. It wasn’t until we were in the series that one of the crew made a comment, that every race we won was worth $250,000.”
It was ultimately Canfield that took the loss in the 2016 World Match Race Tour final, but he said the pressure wasn’t a factor in the outcome. Canfield has been in 16 match race finals thus far in his career and World Sailing’s number one ranked match racer for the past three years.
“We knew we had to go out there and give our best on the water and I think we did that at the time,” said Canfield. “I like to have a lot of fun, but when it’s time to turn it on, everyone is engaged and talking about race strategy and tactics and making sure the boat is set up and not thinking about the money.”
Slingsby and Outteridge will face off during SailGP’s Grand Final Match Race at 3:30 CEST when one team will be crowned the SailGP Champion of the global event’s inaugural season.