Saturday, 21 April 2007

Gram-Hansen + ITA-99 = Winning Rascals

So, in the battle of the Russell Coutts protégés, it's Jes Gram-Hansen 1, Dean Barker 0.

Everyone knows that Barker grew up in the shadow of Coutts, and became his regular sparring partner at Team New Zealand for the 2000 defence of the Cup. Lesser known is the Danish match racer Gram-Hansen's involvement with Coutts, but Gram-Hansen has done a lot of World Match Race Tour events as the Kiwi's tactician.

Gram-Hansen was already a well-established match racer in his own right, but his performance had taken a bit of a downturn until Coutts came along a couple of years ago and invited Gram-Hansen and his Danish team mates to do some Tour events with him. Not only did this provide the Dane with a chance to observe the master at work, but it also gave the 35-year-old his break into America's Cup campaigning, as a meeting with Vincenzo Onorato led to his appointment as starting helmsman for Mascalzone Latino-Capitalia Team.

As we saw yesterday against Emirates Team New Zealand, Mascalzone Latino have addressed criticism that they are a good fleet racing team but a pretty poor match racing team (which they were in the 2005 season). Things improved a little in 2006 with the Italians' acceptance that they would have to employ a non-Latin match race specialist.

Last year Gram-Hansen's aggressive pre-start manoeuvres put the Latin Rascals in the winning position against superior teams on a number of occasions. However they didn't always have the boatspeed to convert those winning moves to victories on the scoreboard.

The team has made another step change for 2007. Now that Harry Dunning and the boatbuilders have delivered a strong package with new boat ITA-99, when Gram-Hansen hands over to chief helmsman Flavio Favini the Italians look like the real deal. Not only can they win starts, but they have the pace and confidence to win races.

The victory against the Kiwis was no fluke, so expect more Latin fireworks later in this Round Robin.

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