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$1 million payday awaits inaugural SailGP champion

SAN DIEGO (AP) — SailGP's inaugural season will end with one crew sailing off with $1 million. Tom Slingsby's Team Australia and Nathan Outteridge's Team Japan have all but clinched spots in the winner-take-all match race final scheduled for Sunday at the global league's season championship regatta in Marseille, France.

It's a big payday for a race that will take approximately 10 minutes in foiling, F50 catamarans, which are capable of sailing at more than 50 knots (57.5 mph/92.6 kph). "It's a nice target to go for, for sure," said Slingsby, 35, an Olympic gold medalist who helped Oracle Team USA win the America's Cup in 2013. "It's a great incentive but I think we want to win mainly because we want to see Australia on top at the end of season. It would be a great bonus to have if we also have some money to spend at the end of it."

This is just the second $1 million payday in the sport's history. Sailors usually compete for Olympic gold medals, trophies such as the America's Cup and the glory of winning races. "It's a bit different than most sailing competitions, isn't it?" said Outteridge, 33, an Australian who has won Olympic gold and silver medals and is an America's Cup veteran. "Usually you build a lead and the pressure is not always on that last race. It's a different system here and we're looking forward to it. This is the first time in my career there has been a race that makes a huge difference. I can't wait for it."

The schedule calls for three fleet races Friday, three Saturday and two Sunday prior to the match race final. But there are contingencies due to expected strong winds. Organizers expect great conditions Friday in the upper wind range, but say Saturday's races could be canceled if forecasted winds of 40-plus knots materialize.

Sunday's forecast calls for winds in the upper range, but organizers believe there will be a chance of sailing that day, with every effort being made to get in the match race. If the match race can't be held, the season championship and the $1 million prize will be determined by the standings.

Australia leads Japan 169 points to 165, followed by the United States with 123, Great Britain 120, China 117 and France 115. "I think we're very happy we're in the box seat for it," Outteridge said. "From the calculations we've done, the only thing we have to do is finish one of eight fleet races to guarantee a spot in the final race. Hopefully we'll do that Friday and then shift our focus."

The Aussies just need to show up. "We've already got the spot. We're mathematically in that," Slingsby said. "We've got to really see the bigger picture," he added. "It's tough, because we're competitive, but we need to keep the boat in one piece. If conditions are too rough or if there's a situation with another boat where we might feel we have the right of way and push for the inside, we might have to back off and take it easy and preserve the boat and make sure we're there for the match race."

Slingsby wants to keep the points lead in case that's how the championship is decided, and because if the match race goes off, the points leader gets to choose which end to enter the starting box. "I'd prefer to have control over it rather than give it to Nathan," Slingsby said.

Slingsby beat Outteridge in the match-race finals at the first two regattas, in Sydney and San Francisco. Outteridge dominated the New York stop, including winning the match-race final against Slingsby. The last regatta, in Cowes, England, was shortened to one day because of bad weather, with the Australians winning all three fleet races.

"It will probably come down to one or two split-second decisions: whoever wins the start, and if that person doesn't make mistakes for the rest of race, they win a million bucks," Outteridge said. "It will be a very intense starting sequence and an intense race that might not be over until the finish line."

The U.S. team hopes to hold off Britain for a podium finish. The Americans were last in the opening regatta but improved through the season and overcame a capsize in the first race at Cowes to jump into third place overall.

SailGP was created by New Zealander Russell Coutts, a five-time America's Cup winner, and software tycoon Larry Ellison, whose Oracle Team USA won the America's Cup in 2010 and 2013 before losing it to Emirates Team New Zealand in 2017.

Follow Bernie Wilson on Twitter at https://twitter.com/berniewilson

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