With two new teams joining SailGP circuit, Team Japan, skippered by Nathan Outteridge is without a boat for the start of the third season.
In a bizarre symptom of the rapid growth of the SailGP circuit, one of the event’s top teams – Team Japan, skippered by Nathan Outteridge – is stuck ashore as the third season kicks off in Bermuda.
For the third season the fleet has grown to 10 boats, with both Canada and Switzerland joining the fleet. However, with the 10th F50 boat yet to be completed, Nathan Outteridge’s SailGP Team Japan will miss at least the first three events of the season: in Bermuda this weekend, Chicago, USA over June 18-19, and the UK leg of Sail GP in Plymouth, July 30-31.
The earliest possible date for Team Japan, who were overall runners up to Tom Slingsby’s Australian team in both previous seasons of SailGP, is the Denmark event over August 19-20.
SailGP was initially privately funded by founder Larry Ellison, the tech billionaire chairman of Oracle, with teams expected to become self-funding through commercial partnerships. In a press conference in Bermuda yesterday, CEO and skipper Outteridge explained his team’s position:
“It’s a really interesting situation to be a developing nation, building Japanese sailing talent and coming second in the first two seasons, and to not be racing now is a little tough, but I fully understand the situation.
“This event is not just about results on the water. It’s about making the teams financially successful as well. And that’s where we’re really struggling at the moment. We’ve identified great sailing talent in Japan and we’ve been getting great results on the water, but we haven’t got the financial backing that we need to be on the start line this weekend.
“We now have two fully funded teams joining the League with Switzerland and Canada, which requires ten boats to start. And the 10th boat is not ready. So we’ve loaned the boat to Canada and loaned them a wing trimmer and a coach for the week, and we wish them all the best this week, and we’re looking forward to getting back on the start line.”
Racing the former Team Japan boat, with Chris Draper stepping in as wing trimmer, the Canadian team got off to a strong start yesterday in Bermuda. A 2nd, 1st and 5th place put them on top of the leaderboard at the end of their first day of foiling F50 racing. Team Canada is skippered by Phil Robertson, who has previously helmed teams for China and Spain.
Meanwhile Ben Ainslie’s British team took two race wins on the first day of the season and were lying 2nd overnight, with double season champions Team Australia in 3rd.
The French SailGP team also got their third season off to a good start, picking up two 2nd places with new skipper Quentin Delapierre at the wheel.
The shortage of boats has been exacerbated by global supply chain issues, as Outteridge explained: “It looks like boat 10 should be back online for the Copenhagen event. It’s a moving target.
“As you know, trying to build boats and travel things around the world at the moment is quite tough. So it’s never confirmed.”
During the past season several high speed collisions that caused extensive damage to the F50s also highlighted the vulnerability of the SailGP boats.
For this season the on the water judging system has been modified to increase the penalties for collisions. There is now increased discretion for the umpires to award penalty points, and penalties can also be handed out to any boats involved in a collision, not just the boat deemed at fault, if the other did not do enough to keep clear.
There is also an immediate ‘black flag disqualification’ that can be awarded to a team that puts another team at high risk of serious collision or capsize.
Team Great Britain skipper Ben Ainslie commented: ““From our perspective, we fell foul [to collisions] a couple of times last season for different reasons but we have taken the time between Sydney and this event to really reevaluate our risk and reward approach to racing, and it’s going to be a factor for sure.”
Team Japan funding appeal
Meanwhile Outteridge and the Japanese squad are focussing their efforts on raising financial backing.
“If we can’t secure finance, there’s a real possibility that we might not make it to Denmark. It’s no surprise to me that right now our results are fantastic. But if we don’t get some financial investment, there are other teams and franchises out there who want to enter this League.
“And I’m well aware that if we can’t get some money together, that the team could be sold to another country. So I’m working as hard as I can, and if there’s anyone out there who would like to help us get some finance together, whether it’s people from Japan or people from around the world, I’d love to have a conversation with you.”
How to follow
Day two of the Bermuda Sail Grand Prix presented by Hamilton Princess continues today, Sunday 15 May, with all the action live from 18:00PM BST on Sky Sports and YouTube in the UK.