Feb 24 2021 All Articles

SailGP - The Formula 1 of the sailing world?

SailGP - The Formula 1 of the sailing world?

If New Zealanders are wondering how they will cope once America’s Cup action on our waters is over… here’s the answer. Hot on the heels of the America’s Cup comes the SailGP International Racing Competition, set for Lyttelton Harbour next summer. We’re full of anticipation and celebrating the fact New Zealand continues to roll out serious on-the-water action to thrill spectators, and with the big guns as participants.

Eight crews, including one from New Zealand (headed by Olympic and world champions Peter Burling and Blair Tuke) will race high-speed hydrofoil catamarans in the two-day grand prix, in-harbour event in January 2022.

SailGP, which launched in 2018, involves crews racing identical boats at speeds of up to 50 knots (100kmh). The event features fleet racing, with all competitors on the course at once.

The event will be part of SailGP league’s second season, with racing in eight locations around the globe. It will be broadcast to a worldwide audience of up to a quarter of a billion people. In its first season, SailGP had a worldwide broadcast audience of 256 million across five events. Since then the event has extended to eight stops and expectations are that spectator numbers will grow significantly as a result.

SailGP chief executive Sir Russell Coutts says the SailGP New Zealand course would be next to Lyttelton’s Naval Point.

The city was chosen partly due to Lyttelton Harbour’s favourable wind conditions and spectator possibilities. The harbour would be ideal for live and broadcast audiences “because of its close-up viewing potential”, with boats able to race within 10 metres of land, Coutts says.

How it works

The F50 boats used in the competition are one design boats maintained and operated by SailGP. Technical information is also shared between teams, which includes large amounts of data collected using Oracle systems. This is intended to ensure that the outcomes of races are determined by skill and ability, and not technology.

There will be three fleet races per day. The winning team of each race scores 10 points, with second place earning 9 points etc. The final race of the season is a match race between the two highest scoring crews over the season. Along with the thrill of winning, big money is at stake.

Some background

The competition was founded by Russell Coutts and Oracle founder Larry Ellison. Their aim was to establish a commercially viable global race series with a large audience.

The season’s racing begins in Bermuda in April this year, culminating in a grand final in San Francisco in March 2022. New Zealand’s Christchurch venue joins other stars such as St Tropez in France, Andalusia in Spain, Plymouth in Britain, Aarhus in Denmark, and Taranto in Italy. Lyttelton harbour, Christchurch, will be the seventh SailGP event in the calendar.

New Zealand will compete against the United States, Australia, France, Great Britain, Japan, Denmark, and Spain. There has been a change in participating countries since the inaugural event. Those initially competing were Australia, China, France, Great Britain, Japan and the United States of America. The competition then consisted of a circuit of five race meets in Sydney, San Francisco, New York, Cowes and Marseille, France. The Australian team, skippered by Tom Slingsby, won the competition and the prize in a final match race against the Japanese team.

The Christchurch races will be the penultimate leg of the upcoming SailGP season.

All crews will be mixed-gender, and star sailors will include Sir Ben Ainslie, skippering the British boat, and Australian Jimmy Spithill piloting for the United States.

A coup for Christchurch

The international crews will spend about a month in Christchurch beforehand, training in the lead up to the event.

The Christchurch City Council will upgrade Naval Point this year in advance of the event. A spectator village with fan zone will be built in time for the SailGP event. It will include bleacher-style spectator stands, food and drink outlets, commentary facilities and a big screen.

Based on other cities’ experiences during the first SailGP season in 2018-19, the event could provide a $32 million financial boost for Christchurch.

The race as it unfolds

For more background information, race highlights, and to keep up with the event as it unfolds check out this website 

Champions will be championing good causes

Beyond entertaining fans around the world, SailGP will leverage its global platform to champion a better world powered by nature, with a focus on accelerating a transition to clean energy. Read here for more info. A winning event in many ways!

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