The new SailGP circuit will see six teams compete at five events around the world in one-design 50ft catamarans for a $1million prize purse

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There had been many rumours and speculative stories, but last night at a glitzy ceremony in London the highly anticipated SailGP circuit was confirmed.

Funded by Larry Ellison, founder of Oracle and former America’s Cup holder, and run by Russell Coutts, the new Sail GP circuit will see last year’s America’s Cup catamarans, the AC50s, re-engineered and reworked to create a one-design class.

They will be raced by six teams, sailing under national flags – Britain, France, Australia, the United States, China and Japan – on a global circuit. The 2019 circuit will begin in Sydney in February 2019 before moving on to San Francisco in May, New York in June, Cowes, UK, for the first weekend of Lendy Cowes Week, and then onto Marseille, France in September.

Racing will be over two days, with evening races planned for some city venues, such as New York. Each grand prix will begin with five fleet races, before culminating in a final match race between the two leaders. The exception will be the season finale in Marseille, which will have three days of racing culminating in one, 20-minute match race for the two overall season leaders, racing for a prize of €1million.

The wing-sailed Foiling 50s are developed at Core Composites in New Zealand, which is owned by Ellison. Coutts said a staff of 110 has been working for a year on the catamarans, which are being stripped of their America’s Cup team development components and converted into a one-design. 

According to Coutts, rather than having grinders (or cyclors) working constantly to provide hydraulic power, the F50s will instead have battery powered foil and rudder controls. Each cat will be sailed by a crew of five (one fewer than on the AC50s), with one dedicated to ‘joystick’ control of the foils, a helmsman and wing trimmer, and two grinders.

At last night’s opening presentation, Coutts said that whilst the boats will be one-design the aim is to allow them to evolve and adopt latest technology, with the Core engineers tasked with continually developing the catamarans. There was much talk at the launch night about how they will be regularly sailing at 50 knots or upwards.

“SailGP is the evolution of sailing,” said Ellison, SailGP founder, in a pre-recorded video message. “With equally incredible technology across our one-design fleet, we expect to see thrillingly close and competitive racing amongst national teams. And, with a modern, consistent format, SailGP will provide a new opportunity for talented sailors who want to race for their countries.”

“SailGP distills all of the most successful, exciting and relevant elements of high-performance, professional racing, while adding the extra edge that comes with nation-versus-nation competition,” commented Coutts, SailGP CEO, in the official press release. “We are aiming to be pioneers of new technologies, boat design, commercial partnerships and global audience engagement. But with every crew on the same groundbreaking F50 catamaran, this isn’t a tech arms race, rather the ultimate test to establish the best sailing team in advanced foiling catamarans.”

The opening show, for which an open air amphitheatre was built on London’s South Bank, was big on razzmatazz (smoke machines! fire! laser beams!). Whilst some details were forthcoming – for example how the nationality rule will be applied – others have yet to be unveiled, such as how the boats and circuit will tour the globe.

A 100 percent nationality rule will be applied to Britain, France, Australia and the US teams, while China and Japan will be required to have 40 percent of the crew from their home nation, increasing by a further 20 percent each year. World Sailing will sanction which sailors do, and which do not, qualify as which nationality. Effectively the rule forces countries like China and Japan to develop an elite foiling training programme.

The circuit is backed heavily by Oracle, Ellison’s cloud computing firm, with luxury goods house Louis Vuitton and Land Rover cars joining as founding partners. The plan is for the circuit to become commercially viable, and to increase to ten teams, racing at ten events.

The Great Britain SailGP Team was also introduced to home fans during the London launch. It will be skippered by Rio 2016 Olympian and 49er world champion Dylan Fletcher, with Olympic bronze medalist and highly experienced foiling cat sailor Chris Draper as team CEO and wing trimmer. Olympic silver medalist Stuart Bithell is flight controller, while Olympic rower Matt Gotrel joins Extreme Sailing Series winner Richard Mason, as the two grinders.

SailGP Great Britain Team (L-R): Stuart Bithell, Chris Draper Matt Gotrell, Dylan Fletcher, Richard Mason

“The concept of SailGP immediately excited me,” said Great Britain helmsman Dylan Fletcher. “This league allows us to compete with and against the best, and to challenge ourselves in every way possible while sailing the world’s fastest catamarans. We have the opportunity to push the limits of our sport, and this is a very proud chapter in my career. What Larry and Russell have created is truly unique, and I am confident it will capture the attention of audiences around the world.”

See SailGP.com for more information. We will be taking an in-depth look at the concept in the December issue of Yachting World.