LONDON (Reuters) - Former America’s Cup winners Larry Ellison and Russell Coutts launched a new league on Wednesday, with six national teams sailing in a series ending in a two-boat $1 million finale.
SailGP will go live in Sydney, Australia in February 2019 with 50-foot foiling catamarans powered by wing sails which the organizers expect to reach speeds of more than 50 knots (93 kilometers per hour) as they fly above the water.
“With equally incredible technology across our one-design fleet, we expect to see thrillingly close and competitive racing,” said Ellison, whose Oracle Team USA lost the 35th America’s Cup to Emirates Team New Zealand in Bermuda in 2017.
Luxury goods group Louis Vuitton, previously a long-term sponsor of the America’s Cup, is one of SailGP’s founding partners, alongside Larry Ellison’s Oracle and Land Rover [TAMOJL.UL], the carmaker which until this year was the main backer of British sailor Ben Ainslie’s team.
Ellison was one of those hoping to change the America’s Cup into a more regular format in catamarans, but plans to do so were thrown out when New Zealand lifted international sport’s oldest trophy, known as the “Auld Mug”, and with it the right to decide the timing, the venue and the craft for the next event.
New Zealand chose to hold the 36th America’s Cup in Auckland in 2021, opting for an entirely new breed of foiling monohulls.
In its first season SailGP will feature five-person crews representing Australia, China, France, Great Britain, Japan and the United States and will be raced in Sydney, San Francisco, New York, in Britain at Cowes and lastly in Marseille, France.
The F50 is a “supercharged incarnation” of the AC50, the catamarans used for the last America’s Cup, SailGP said.
“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,” its chief executive Coutts said.
“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.”
Britain’s entry will be skippered by Rio 2016 Olympian and world champion Dylan Fletcher and includes Olympic bronze medalist Chris Draper as CEO and wing trimmer, Olympic silver medalist Stuart Bithell as flight controller and Olympic rower Matt Gotrel and Richard Mason as grinders.
“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,” Fletcher said.
Editing by Angus MacSwan