Skippers Slingsby, Outteridge set for $1 million match race

MARSEILLE, France (AP) — Tom Slingsby’s Team Australia and Nathan Outteridge’s Team Japan have confirmed their spots in the $1 million, winner-take-all match race to decide SailGP’s inaugural season championship.

Slingsby won Friday’s second fleet race aboard his foiling F50 catamaran and finished second in the other two races on the opening day of the Marseille regatta. Outteridge won the first and third races and was fourth in the second race.

Slingsby expanded his lead over Outteridge by one point, 197-192, atop the leaderboard of the six-team fleet.

Three fleet races are scheduled for Saturday and two on Sunday prior to the match race. However, strong winds are forecast for Saturday, which could affect the schedule. If the match race can’t be sailed, the championship would be decided on points.

Outteridge was aggressive from the start of the first race, holding back the Aussies and surprising his friend and countryman Slingsby, who’s an Olympic gold medalist and former America’s Cup winner.

“We know we are preparing for the match race and there is a match race within the fleet race,” said Outteridge, an Olympic gold and silver medalist and America’s Cup veteran. “We will take any opportunity to practice our match racing skills as much as possible, and you saw that today. We wanted to slow the Aussies up today and put some boats between them and us to help our points. I will do more of that tomorrow but I think Tom will come out more aggressive.”

The Aussies came from behind to win the second race.

“Knowing him as well as I do, I didn’t think he would be that aggressive,” Slingsby said. “We were not expecting it in all honesty. I thought he was going to race his own race but good on him, he caught us a bit by surprise.”

It was a rough day for skipper Rome Kirby and the United States team, which came into the day in third place overall but dropped to fifth in the six-boat fleet after experiencing trouble with one of its foils.

The Americans had to retire from the first two races and finished last in the third race.

That opened the way for Dylan Fletcher’s British team to jump into podium position, taking over third place with 145 points. The British finished third, second and third in Friday’s races.

The United States and China are tied at 137 and France is last with 135 points.

“We’ve dealt with plenty of adversity throughout the season,” Kirby said. “Although it was tough to start an event this way, we will come back out fighting tomorrow.”

Kirby said a line that controls one of the foils failed.