Slingsby's yachtsmen hoping to spoil Kiwi homecoming
SailGP brings its high-adrenaline racing to yachting-mad New Zealand for the first time this weekend, but the crew from across the Tasman are out to ruin the Kiwis' party.
The penultimate regatta of Season 3 of tech tycoon Larry Ellison's global league will be sailed in Christchurch on Saturday and Sunday (NZ time).
Skipper Peter Burling is looking to get his Kiwi squad back on form to keep alive their chances of racing in the three-boat, $US1 million ($A1.5 million) winner-take-all grand final at the season-ending regatta in San Francisco in early May.
But the Kiwis' main rivals are two-time defending champions Team Australia, led by skipper Tom Slingsby.
They have all but clinched a spot in the grand final and about the only thing that could prevent them from going for a third straight cheque would be if they caused a collision in any race which would incur a big points penalty.
The Aussies lead the fleet of nine 50-foot foiling catamarans with 76 points, 12 ahead of New Zealand.
Just three points separate New Zealand in second and Sir Ben Ainslie's Emirates Great Britain SailGP Team in fourth, with upstart France in between them, which will put pressure on the Kiwis to perform well this weekend.
Slingsby would love to put even more heat on the Kiwis as he steers his 50-foot catamaran, nicknamed the Flying Roo for the yellow kangaroo on the wingsail.
"It's kind of something in an Aussie's blood where that's a huge drive for us to come to New Zealand and beat them on their home turf, whether it's rugby, cricket or sailing," Slingsby said with a smile at a news conference.
"For sure there's extra motivation there. Just beating New Zealand at any time and then beating them on their home turf maybe could dent their confidence a little heading into San Francisco.
"I think it will be very important who beats who in this event between us and New Zealand as we're probably the top two teams this season and confidence is huge in this sport."
Slingsby, an Olympic gold medalist and former America's Cup champion, said the Aussies were going to discuss whether they should try to match-race the Kiwis down the fleet and hurt them in the standings.
"We do have to remember that if we have collisions and stuff we can be knocked out of the final," Slingsby said. "We're going to have a talk about it today, who we might want to help into the final, who we might take out of the final.
"It's all part of the game. For sure the Kiwis are probably our biggest rival. They've won three events this year and have beaten us in those final races multiple times. If Pete was in the same position we are he would be going after us probably."
Burling, the two-time defending America's Cup champion helmsman and a three-time Olympic medalist, has plenty of motivation, too.
"We're just incredibly proud to be racing in front of home fans," Burling said. "It's been a long time of us travelling to the other side of the world, racing in some pretty horrendous time zones."