SailGP has unveiled the fifth team in its new global racing league – the China SailGP Team – with a bold ambition to drive the growth of high-performance sailing in China. The China SailGP Team takes to the water in February 2019 equipped to challenge for the inaugural championship title.
The team launches with a core of Chinese talent supplemented by some of the world’s leading sailors of advanced foiling catamarans, and will build to a full Chinese crew over SailGP’s initial years of racing. Ensuring competitiveness now and in the future, the China SailGP Team will help develop the country’s next generation of world-class sailors capable of success in SailGP and other top-level sailing competitions.
The China SailGP Team will be helmed by veteran New Zealander Phil Robertson, a regular fixture on the World Match Racing Tour podium since his debut in 2009, and a championship winner in 2016. He will be leading the fight for China against Australia, France, Great Britain, Japan and the United States, alongside some of China’s top home-grown sailors: Liu ‘Black’ Xue (grinder), Jinhao ‘Horace’ Chen (grinder) and Liu ‘Leo’ Ming (reserve grinder), who have all represented Dongfeng Race Team in the Volvo Ocean Race, including during the team’s winning campaign in 2017-18.
Olympians James Wierzbowski (flight controller) of Australia and Thomas Le Breton (reserve wing trimmer) from France, plus Britain’s Ed Powys (wing trimmer) fill the seven-man roster set up for success in SailGP’s inaugural season.
“We’ve seen a lot of success with the cross-culture team model in China,” said Bruno Dubois, China SailGP Team principal. “Most of our crew has experience with a China-based team – either China One Ningbo for the World Match Racing Tour or the Dongfeng Race Team for the Volvo Ocean Race – and we are collectively committed to continuing to facilitate the development of high-performance sailing in China.”
Spearheaded by Larry Ellison and Coutts, SailGP has set out to redefine sailing and will bring intensely competitive, inshore racing to fans in Sydney; San Francisco; New York; Cowes, U.K.; and Marseille, France, as world-class crews compete for the championship trophy and a US$1 million prize. The teams will be racing identical wingsailed F50s – the fastest catamarans in the world, precision-engineered to break the 50-knot (60mph/100kph) barrier.
SailGP and World Sailing rules designate China as a developing country, allowing the team to select a specified number of non-native athletes to participate with the national team so it can safely pilot the demanding F50 yachts from the very first race. The China SailGP Team has a 40 percent nationality requirement for season one, which will increase by 20 percent each season. In parallel, China SailGP Team will create a youth development academy to train talented young sailors for future competition.
“The rules developed by SailGP and World Sailing allow us not only to be immediately competitive, but also give us clear targets that will only be met by pushing development even further in China,” said Dubois. “It is essential for us to establish a strong youth academy, providing a pathway for talented young Chinese sailors to train in a high-performance setting and gain needed experience on foiling boats, which will have far reaching future benefits for the Chinese sailing community.”
Eventually, every national team will be fully comprised of athletes native to the country they are representing, sharpening the nation-versus-nation edge that sets SailGP apart from many other top-class sailing competitions.
“China’s potential in top-level international sailing is limitless – from the size of the fanbase, to the commercial market, to the development of talent on the water,” said SailGP CEO Russell Coutts. “For SailGP, it has always been a priority to have a Chinese team that could be competitive in season one while jump-starting the long-term pipeline of home-grown talent. This is a nationality driven competition, with an objective to build the team to be 100 percent Chinese over the next three to five years. This current China SailGP Team will have the skills and experience to be competitive from our first event starting in Sydney next February, and will be well poised to excite fans on home soil starting in season two.”
“I’ve represented world-class teams before, but nothing has come close to this SailGP project when it comes to long-term ambition,” said China SailGP Team helmsman Phil Robertson. “We are looking to the future, but make no mistake: we’re here to compete from race day one. We just came off a fantastic couple weeks on the F50 in New Zealand, which made us even more excited for what’s to come next year.”
China is on tap to be one of the first expansion event markets for SailGP, with the country’s sailing community set to reap the benefits of exposing China’s sailors and sports fans to a brand-new international racing experience. From season two, SailGP will begin a legacy program that will see youth programs in every team market provide development opportunities to young sailors via schools and yacht clubs.
“SailGP is a huge opportunity to increase China’s presence in elite-level sailing,” said China SailGP grinder Liu ‘Black’ Xue. “We’ve had some successes on the international stage already, but this multi-race international format will help us build really strong connections with fans and hopefully inspire the next generation of young sailors out there. SailGP is going to help create pathways and opportunities for talented young athletes that didn’t exist before.”