Sailing: Trans-Tasman rivalry provides undercurrent to inaugural Sail GP regatta at Lyttelton

New Zealand Sail GP director Karl Budge expects a developing trans-Tasman rivalry may come to a head, as the international series finally makes its debut at Lyttelton this weekend.

Originally scheduled for last year, the Christchurch stopover was cancelled, due to COVID-19 restrictions, but pops up at a crucial stage of the 2023 competition, with the home team trailling two-time defending champions Australia in overall standings.

The local leg is the last regatta before the grand final at San Francisco in May, so teams will be desperately scrambling for places in the top three, with France one point behind the Kiwis in third and Great Britain another two points back.

Led by America's Cup heroes Peter Burling and Blair Tuke, New Zealand have won three of the nine regattas contested - matching the Aussies, skippered by Tom Slingsby - but have made only one other final across that schedule, as they struggle for consistency.

Last month's Sydney event proved disastrous for Burling, who was penalised to the back of the fleet in race one, rallied somewhat over two subsequent races, but languished in sixth overall - behind his nearest rivals - when a freak weather event saw further racing cancelled.  

With the Aussies holding a convincing lead on the standings, Budge hints they may use the Christchurch races to influence who they face at San Francisco, with only three spots available.

"It would be nice to get one across our friends from over the ditch," Budge told AM. "We've beaten them 100 percent of the time we've raced them in finals.

"It will be an interesting subplot this weekend - are the Aussies trying to win or are they trying to keep us away from winning?

"Maybe that's something going on around the scenes this weekend."

Sailing: Trans-Tasman rivalry provides undercurrent to inaugural Sail GP regatta at Lyttelton

Unlike America's Cup, which adopts a match-racing format between two boats, Sail Grand Prix sees a fleet of nine boats travelling at high speeds around shorter courses, located close to shore for spectator convenience.

Budge uses a cricket analogy to explain the difference.

"We like the T20 version," he said. "We're faster, short-form... it's very close and adrenaline-fuelled.

"You're going to have some boat-on-boat contact and possibly a couple of capsizes, if the wind gets up. It's a really different product to what we've seen in sailing before."

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