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17 March 2006, 10:26 am
COUTTS Grabs Advantage In Dubai
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Dubai Match Race Challenge 2006
Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Three times America's Cup winning skipper Russell COUTTS (NZL) grabbed a narrow advantage on the opening leg of the Dubai Match Race Challenge today. COUTTS edged 2-1 ahead after three 20 minute rounds of spectacular, close combat match racing as the two day event got under way off Dubai International Marine Club in the United Arab Emirates yesterday afternoon.

The event's opening match race was the first time that the Russell Coutts 44 racing boat had been seen in competitive action anywhere in the world.

And as a fascinating battle of wits got under way, the early initiative was grasped by Jes GRAM-HANSEN (DEN) and his crew which is built around the Italian-based 2007 America's Cup challenger, Mascalzone Latino - Capitalia Team.

Holding a six seconds advantage at the midway point of the first match, the Dane had to survive a strong fight back from COUTTS before going on to record a narrow opening victory.

With the format for the event being three back to back sessions of racing on each of the two days, there was no let up in the action. COUTTS hit back immediately to level the series, winning a dramatic second match at the death when GRAM-HANSEN, who had had to deal with a twisted spinnaker, was forced to complete a compulsory 360 degree penalty turn.

More spinnaker trouble for the Dane in the final match of the day saw COUTTS cruise home with 25 seconds to spare.

"It's been an exciting day for everyone involved, and the stage is set for a great finish on the second leg," said Martin BENDER, Managing Director of Dubai based V1 Advanced Composite Technologies, who have built the high performance composite built RC 44 along with Pauger Carbon from Budapest, Hungary.

The two boats looked and performed impressively as they went into action on a virtual square course set for the event between Dubai International Marine Club, its beachside Le Meridian resort hotel and the Palm Jumeirah breakwater.

This setting is emerging as a unique stage for top class international sailing, giving spectators a close up view of the world's top match racing teams in competitive action, and there was much international interest as COUTTS went head to head with GRAM-HANSEN in the first of a new series of international sailing events planned for the Emirate.

Skippering a crew featuring Swiss Julien DI BIASE, Croatian Stipe VITALJIC, Italian Massimo SIRENA and Danes Chresten PLINIUS and Peter POULSEN, COUTTS went into action in Dubai aiming to add to his impressive haul of major career successes.

In addition to his America's Cup victories as skipper in 1995, 2000 and 2003, he has won three ISAF World Match Racing Championships, and recorded numerous international match race wins and World Championship victories.

But GRAM-HANSEN, one of the rising stars of match racing, is not overawed by COUTTS' reputation. And he will be aiming to turn the tables on the New Zealander with his crew of fellow Dane Rasmus KOSTNER, Malta's Chris DOUGALL, and Italy's Alberto BAROVIER, Michele PAOLETTI and Vasco VASCOTTO.

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