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20 March 2006, 09:26 am
COUTTS Weathers the Storm To Win
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Dubai Match Race Challenge 2006
Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Russell COUTTS won the Dubai Match Race Challenge in dramatic fashion on Friday, edging out Jes GRAM-HANSEN after the second leg of the event was cut short by a heavy storm and ended in darkness. The America's Cup legend edged out GRAM-HANSEN as the RC44 made a successful debut at the Dubai International Marine Club.

Winds gusting up to 40 knots had threatened to prevent any action, but when racing eventually got under way it was COUTTS who came through to defeat the Danish star in an event marking the competitive debut of the RC 44 racing boat.

Trailing 2-1 from Thursday's first leg, GRAM-HANSEN kept alive his hopes of a first ever match racing victory over the three-times America's Cup-winning helmsman with an opening win after one of the three scheduled races was cancelled.

But the series was then decided when the Dane was halted by a broken jib, leaving COUTTS clear to record a 3-2 success and add the Dubai Match Race Challenge to his long list of international honours.

The event was a big success for organizers Dubai International Marine Club and V1 Advanced Composite Technologies, who have built the high performance composite-built RC 44 along with Pauger Carbon from Budapest.

For much of the afternoon, however, with a sand storm blowing in from the desert, it looked increasingly unlikely that any action would be possible.

Challenge 2

Surveying the scene from the Dubai International Marine Club breakwater, where a hospitality marquee was being battered by the wind as rain began to fall, COUTTS said at one point: 'We just can't start in this.'

Regatta chairman Sid BENSALAH, sailing manager at Dubai International Marine Club, said: 'The conditions are not extreme, but this is the limit for match racing.'

Shortly afterwards the wind began to drop and, with light fading the decision was taken to start the second leg and the two RC 44s made their way from the DIMC marina to the course.

Skippering a crew built around the Italian-based 2007 America's Cup challenger, Mascalzone Latino-Capitalia Team, GRAM-HANSEN took an early lead in the first race of the second leg and went on to win by five seconds, levelling the series at 2-2.

Then came the showdown, and with darkness descending GRAM-HANSEN initially got his keel stuck in sand, eventually escaping and hitting the start with an advantage. But COUTTS was soon ahead and the broken jib finally ended the Dane's challenge.

Tony LEWIS (As Amended By ISAF). Image, Action from Dubai:© Tony LEWIS
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