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SailGP Teams, Back at Full Strength, Power to the $1 Million Prize

“The biggest thing is really, how consistent can you keep your roster?” said Jimmy Spithill, a two-time America’s Cup winner and the driver of the United States SailGP Team. “This fleet is very short time as it is — there’s not very much practice, you can’t really train between the events — so the time you spend together is very important.”

The boats, which cost about $4 million each, are identical. Larry Ellison, a two-time America’s Cup winner and the founder of Oracle, is the majority owner of SailGP. Ellison also owns seven of the teams, Coutts said. The boats may be the same, but how each team sails them is not. So much of practice is spent developing a playbook of choreographed maneuvers.

“We feel a lot more competitive now than we were in Bermuda,” said Rome Kirby, an America’s Cup winner and the United States SailGP Team’s flight controller. It is “time in the boat, time together as a team.” And time spent polishing the playbook. “You need to do it together. There’s no cheat code.”

Each boat is equipped with electronic sensors that constantly gather data and send it to an Oracle-run cloud where it is available — along with onboard video footage and audio from microphones worn by the crew — to all the teams.

“It speeds up the learning and therefore the competitiveness,” Coutts said about the shared data.

Teams also receive the same hardware and software upgrades. “No one can completely dominate, because you can’t get every decision right,” he said. “The fact that the boats are so close in performance, even with the technique differences, means that we see different winners at events regularly.

“The design teams are just continuously working on improving the performance of the boats, and also we’re looking at the racing and seeing how” it can be enhanced it, Coutts said.

So the boats constantly evolve, but if sailors miss events, they can find themselves and their team less competitive. Spithill said the entire fleet was more competitive now because crews “have more races and more time on the boats.”