By Alexander Smith
LONDON (Reuters) - New Zealand will join the $1 million prize SailGP championship next season with a team led by defending America's Cup champions and Olympic gold medallists Peter Burling and Blair Tuke.
The New Zealand SailGP Team will be among the fleet of high-speed "foiling" catamarans due to hit the water again in April 2021 after a coronavirus hiatus, SailGP said on Thursday.
"SailGP provides an annual platform for professional, high-performance sailing on the global stage, which strongly complements our existing America's Cup and Olympic commitments," New Zealand's Burling said in a SailGP statement.
San Francisco is due to host the first grand prix of the second season of SailGP, which was launched in 2018 and will now feature eight national teams competing in F50 catamarans, which can hit speeds of more than 50 knots (93 kms per hour).
Burling and Tuke, who have won two Olympic medals and six world titles in the 49er class, are training to defend their America's Cup title with Emirates Team New Zealand in Auckland next year, before turning to their Olympic defence in Tokyo.
"They are among the best of the best in the world, and will no doubt be incredibly competitive in SailGP," SailGP CEO Russell Coutts said of Burling and Tuke.
The New Zealand duo aim to use SailGP, which has been bankrolled by Oracle founder Larry Ellison, to raise awareness of ocean health.
"Our aim is to build a winning, commercially viable race team from New Zealand that has ocean protection and restoration in its DNA," Tuke said.
The SailGP catamarans, which lift up above the water on hydrofoils, are an updated version of those in which Burling and Tuke won the America's Cup in Bermuda in 2017.
(Reporting by Alexander Smith; Editing by Toby Davis)