Denmark joins sea battle for SailGP's $1 million prize

LONDON (Reuters) - A Danish team will challenge crews from Australia, China, France, Britain, Japan and the United States in next year’s $1 million (£779,423.23) prize, high-octane SailGP catamaran circuit.

FILE PHOTO: SailGP Teams compete during the start of the day one of the SailGP event in Marseille, France, September 20, 2019. REUTERS/Jean-Paul Pelissier

SailGP said on Wednesday that the Denmark SailGP Team, backed by Danish insulation manufacturer Rockwool, will be helmed by around-the-world sailor Nicolai Sehested, 30, and managed by Olympic silver medallist Jonas Hogh-Christensen.

Denmark’s entry into the fray will rekindle a great sailing rivalry as it was Hogh-Christensen who almost succeeded in denying Britain’s Ben Ainslie his fourth Olympic gold medal on home waters in 2012 in the single-handed Finn class.

Ainslie, the most successful Olympic sailor, last month signed up for SailGP in 2020 with the backing of British billionaire Jim Ratcliffe’s INEOS Team UK.

“This is probably one of the most exciting developments in Danish sailing for many years as it provides a new pathway for top young sailors who aspire to race professionally for their country,” SailGP CEO Russell Coutts said in a statement.

Denmark’s national sailing team, which brings together its Olympic athletes, said it was “the best performing team in Danish sporting history, delivering more medals than any other sport”.

The Danes will be hoping to add to that success in the second season of SailGP, which is sailed in F50 “foiling” catamarans and due to begin in Sydney in February, where the Australian crew will look to defend their title.

Culminating in a winner-takes-all $1 million prize race, SailGP was set up last year by Oracle founder Larry Ellison and Coutts after Emirates Team New Zealand lifted the last America’s Cup and opted to move back to monohulls.

Waging a SailGO campaign costs around $7 million a year.

The SailGP catamarans, which lift up above the water on hydrofoils, are an updated version of those used in the America’s Cup in Bermuda in 2017 and in their first season hit speeds of 50 knots (93 kms per hour).

“It’s the best sailors in the fastest boats, all racing close to shore – it’s incredibly intense racing and a true spectacle to watch,” said Sehested, an experienced match racer who has helmed two Ocean Race campaigns.

SailGP, which is bankrolled by Ellison, is looking to make the annual competition and its teams self-sustaining by bringing in more sponsors and attracting a global audience.

Rockwool’s chief executive Jens Birgersson said sailing was a sustainable sport and a perfect fit for its global brand.

Editing by Ken Ferris