Slingsby hopes to hold off hard-charging Kiwis when SailGP splashes down on Sydney Harbor

SAN DIEGO (AP) — No pressure whatsoever, but Tom Slingsby and his mates with Team Australia really need a win on home water when SailGP makes its annual stop on Sydney Harbor this weekend.

Not only have the three-time defending champions not won a regatta in Season 4 of the global league, but there would be no bigger gut punch than if their hard-charging rival from across the Tasman Sea, Team New Zealand, hoisted the trophy and sprayed Champagne with the backdrop of the Opera House and Harbor Bridge.

“It would be pretty bad,” Slingsby said in a video call from his home north of Sydney. “It’s probably the worst-case scenario for multiple reasons.”

With skipper Peter Burling taking paternity leave, the Kiwis are turning to Nathan Outteridge to helm their foiling 50-foot catamaran in pursuit of a third straight victory and fourth this season. Outteridge, an Australian, lives in New Zealand with his Kiwi wife, Emma, and their two children. A two-time Olympic medalist, Outteridge skippered Japan the first two seasons of SailGP and is a helmsman with two-time defending America’s Cup champion Emirates Team New Zealand, which is led by Burling and Blair Tuke.

“They do have Nathan Outteridge steering this event so at least there’s an Aussie there somewhere,” Slingsby joked. He then turned serious: “We need to stop them.”

Do the Aussies feel the pressure from the Kiwis? “Hopefully, because we’re coming,” said Tuke, the wing trimmer who is co-CEO with Burling.

“We’ve said all along that we’re here for the long road,” Tuke said in a video call from the Auckland waterfront. “We’ve got a good team and we’ve set up some really nice processes now and had some hurdles, some speed bumps, that’s for sure, but some of those have definitely made us stronger as a unit. We’re pretty focused on being in the final at the end of the season and doing one better than last year.”

Burling reached last season’s Grand Final before Slingsby held him off in a tense finish in the $1 million, winner-take-all race on San Francisco Bay.

The Kiwis beat the Aussies in the Season 4 opener in Chicago and have rebounded nicely from the catastrophic failure of their wingsail at the end of the opening day of the Saint-Tropez regatta in September.

The Kiwis are coming off wins in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, both in light air. The wind should be fresher on Sydney Harbor, where the Aussies won the inaugural SailGP regatta in 2019 and again the following season. They were third there last year.

New Zealand has pulled within six points of the Aussies on the leaderboard of the 10-team league with six regattas to go before the top three teams sail for the season title and winner-take-all prize, which is now $2 million, on July 14 in San Francisco.

“Look, not putting pressure, we’ve had seven events this season and we haven’t managed to win one and the Kiwis have won three,” said Slingsby, an Olympic gold medalist and former America’s Cup champion. “For sure they’re the favorite heading into this having won the last couple. If ever there’s a time to get us back on track, the Sydney event would be a great one to win.”

The Aussies were seventh in Abu Dhabi, the first time in 14 regattas they failed to make the podium race.

New Zealand has finished fifth and fourth in Sydney and would love to win this one heading into their home regatta in Christchurch on March 23-24.

“That’s definitely the plan,” said Tuke, who teamed up with Burling to win three Olympic medals. “When you’ve got a bit of momentum, you want to keep it going. We want to get over there and show what we can do.”


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