Team Japan skipper Nathan Outteridge clinched the third and final spot in SailGP’s $1 million, winner-take-all Season 2 championship race with a strong performance in Saturday’s three fleet races in the Mubadala United States Grand Prix on San Francisco Bay.
Outteridge had finishes of sixth, second and first aboard his fast, foiling 50-foot catamaran to join defending champion Tom Slingsby of Australia and Jimmy Spithill of Team USA in Sunday’s grand finale of tech tycoon Larry Ellison’s global league.
The three Australian skippers need to keep their boats intact in Sunday’s two fleet races that precede the $1 million race. That hasn’t been easy for any team this season.
Slingsby capsized his boat, the Flying Roo, in practice on Thursday, causing major damage to the wing sail that forced the shore crew to work through two sleepless nights to repair. Spithill rolled his $7 million catamaran on Monday. Three months ago in Sydney, British star Ben Ainslie inexplicably smashed his cat into Team Japan, shearing off the starboard bow of the Japanese boat. Ainslie let Outteridge use the British boat to finish the regatta.
“We did a great job today,” said Outteridge, an Olympic gold and silver medalist and America’s Cup veteran. “Tom was out there sailing well today, but tomorrow’s a different story. I’m sure Jimmy will come back strong. We’ve just got to get through those two races tomorrow. That will be the No. 1 goal, to try and win the San Francisco event and then back it up with the overall season victory.”
Outteridge won Saturday’s third race in impressive fashion, speeding across the finish line at nearly 57 mph, close to the top end for the cutting-edge catamarans. He also had finishes of sixth and second. He and Slingsby are tied at 18 points for the San Francisco regatta championship.
Slingsby beat Outteridge for the inaugural season championship and $1 million prize in 2019. SailGP expanded the grand finale to three boats for the pandemic-delayed second season.
Team Australia had finishes of 2-4-3 on Saturday while Team USA went 5-7-5. Those crews came into this regatta already assured a spot in the $1 million race.
While Slingsby looked strong two days after his capsize, Spithill struggled with his starts and will have to do better Sunday to win the boatload of cash.
“All in all, we’re happy and we’re heading into tomorrow sort of in the hunt and we’ve still got a boat that’s working, so that’s a good thing,” said Slingsby, an Olympic gold medalist who was Spithill’s strategist during Oracle Team USA’s stunning America’s Cup comeback win in 2013 on San Francisco Bay.
“For me, there’s not really any psychology to it. Nathan just sailed a little better than us today, a little cleaner, a few less mistakes,” Slingsby said. “Good on them. But for us, we know that if we sail as well as we know we can, we’re very hard to beat. My team sailed very well today but I made a few too many errors and my hand’s up for that. Hopefully I can get that right for tomorrow.”
Spithill, a two-time America’s Cup champion who lives full-time in San Diego with his American wife and their two sons, said the Americans made too many mistakes. “Listen, we were trying a few different things as well. Some worked, some didn’t but the focus for us is to take the lessons from today and focus on tomorrow. The only race that counts is the last one.”
Spithill said the Americans need to get to the championship race intact “and then put the throttle down.”
Slingsby couldn’t resist zinging Spithill, who has tried to play up his role as underdog to Australia and Japan.
“I’ve heard on the grapevine that the USA team is trying new things, but if I was them, I would cancel those plans and get back to what they know, because they didn’t look too good,” Slingsby said.
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