Will Coutts meet his match at this afternoon's Dubai Match Race Challenge opener? 16/3/06

Three-times America’s Cup winner Russell Coutts and Danish star Jes Gram-Hansen are primed for an intense two-day battle for supremacy in the Dubai Match Race Challenge starting this afternoon.

Coutts goes into the event at Dubai International Marine Club knowing he faces a big challenge from Gram-Hansen who is eager to record his first match racing victory against the most successful helmsman in America’s Cup history.

Both men will take experienced crews into battle as they give a competitive debut to the new high performance composite built RC 44 (Russell Coutts 44) racing boat.

Dubai-based V1 Advanced Composite Technologies is working with Pauger Carbon from Budapest to construct the RC 44s to stringent CouttsJustin design specifications, and V1 believes the boat can become one of the world’s most exciting and sought after racers.
Coutts’s Dubai Match Race Challenge crew features Swiss Julien di Biase, Croatian Stipe Vitaljic, Italian Massimo Sirena and Danes Chresten Plinius and Peter Poulsen.

Gram-Hansen, one of the rising stars of match racing, will be supported by some members of the Mascalzone Latino-Capitalia America’s Cup team, including fellow-Dane Rasmus Kostner, Malta’s Chris Dougall, and Italy’s Alberto Barovier, Michele Paoletti and Vasco Vascotto, who has won more world sailing titles than any other Italian.

Coutts is looking forward to sailing competitively in Dubai for the first time, although he expects a tough two days of match racing, commenting: “We’re sailing with only six crew which will make things pretty physical in a 44ft boat. Like the America’s Cup boats, the RC 44s are equipped with a string dropping system for the gennakers. The crews are having to adapt to the winch layout and systems for gybing and dropping the gennakers, which are pretty big. It will be hard work.”

Gram-Hansen added: “Russell is the toughest opponent you can have in match racing. I’ve only raced against him a few times over the years, and he’s the only match race sailor I’ve never beaten. Hopefully I can change that in Dubai.”

The race format will include six 20-minute rounds of close combat match
racing on a virtual square course set between Dubai International Marine Club, its beachside Le Meridian resort hotel and the Palm Jumeirah breakwater.