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Russell Coutts pulls off amazing victory in Swedish Match Tour's Toscana Elba Cup

Sunday May 9th 2004, Author: Sean McNeill, Location: Italy
Staging a massive comeback from deep in the standings, New Zealander Russell Coutts, won the Swedish Match Tour's Toscana Elba Cup - Trofeo Locman.

Coutts, the skipper of America’s Cup champion Alinghi Team, defeated Australian Peter Gilmour and the Pizza-La Sailing Team, 2-1, to claim the championship of the Euro 100,000 event (approximately $118,000), the fifth event on the 2003-’04 Swedish Match Tour.

At the end of racing on Thursday, 6 May, Coutts was last in the field of 12 crews with a 1-5 record. After sailing 22 races, the maximum number possible, he has become the champion and won Euro 35,000.

“I felt a little uncomfortable for a while there,” Coutts said dockside amid a throng of fans and media. “We didn’t do any practice for this event and we almost paid for it.” Coutts’s crew consisted of Rodney Arden, Josh Belsky, Warwick Fleury, Lorenzo Mazza, Dean Phipps and Peter Van Nieuwenhuyzen. “I really enjoyed the racing,” Coutts said. “The conditions were difficult and tricky.”

Although Gilmour lost, he still won Euro 25,000 for second place and has the Swedish Match Tour Championship Leaderboard in a stranglehold, adding 20 points to his scoreline in this regatta. With a total of 97 points, he is 48 points ahead of second-placed Magnus Holmberg (SWE/SeaLife Rangers) with three events remaining. Gilmour’s crew consisted of Rod Dawson, Mike Mottl, Mark Newbrook, Alan Smith, Kazuhiko Sofuku and Yashuhiro Yaji. “To my guys, I’m sorry I messed up the last start,” Gilmour said.

By winning, Coutts added 25 points to his total and leaped to fifth on the leaderboard from a tie for 13th.

The conditions for the final were as glorious as yesterday, when the quarterfinal and semifinal rounds were raced. The winds were out of the east/southeast between 8 and 12 knots.

With the championship score tied at one-all, the decisive moment came in the pre-start of the third race. Both crews were deep in the start box and on starboard tack, with Gilmour to windward. He tried to get across Coutts’s bow, but Coutts luffed and tagged Gilmour’s port push-pit, bending it inward. “He set a nice trap and got a penalty on us,” Gilmour said. “We were overlapped, and he gave us a sharp and fast luff. I think it could’ve gone either way.”

Coutts won the first race in the final, a nail biter. The two veteran crews were never more than two boatlengths apart. Gilmour was to leeward of Coutts at the start and forced him to the right side. Gilmour would leebow Coutts twice, sending him back to the right side.
But that worked in Coutts’s favour. Near the top of the one-third mile leg Coutts got a little more pressure on the right and was able to cross Gilmour at their third meeting. This slight advantage was all he needed, and he won by approximately 10 seconds.

Race 2 was Gilmour’s turn to work the right side of the beat. To windward of Coutts in close-quarters off the start line, he tacked to port when Coutts luffed 10 seconds into the race. Gilmour was happy with that development, as he too found more pressure on the right side. When they met again he held a one and a half boatlength lead and stretched it out to about four boatlengths at the finish.

“I made a couple of mistakes in the pre-start of Race 2,” Coutts said. “It was very close racing. You have to be careful not to get too complacent.”

The final was a wonderful climax to a week that started with loads of frustration for competitors and organizers alike. Bad weather on the first three days threw the regatta schedule off track. The weather turned favorable on Friday and continued to improve throughout the weekend.

Like yesterday’s quarterfinal and semifinal rounds, today’s final on a sunny spring day attracted hundreds of spectators along the shoreside to watch the racing held just hundreds of yards away on the Bay of Porto Azzurro. The spectators couldn’t have been any closer if the event were staged in a stadium.

“I’d like to compliment the race committee and the organizers,” Gilmour said. “A few days ago I didn’t think we could get this series in. But they did a great job.”

Coutts got into the final after he defeated New Zealander Gavin Brady of the Oracle BMW Racing Team, 3-2, in the semifinal.

Brady led Coutts 2-1 coming into today after yesterday’s racing, but Coutts won today’s two matches to advance. In their fourth match, Brady was penalised twice.

The first penalty came in the pre-start on a port-starboard situation, when it appeared that Brady, on starboard, didn’t give Coutts enough room to keep clear. The second penalty came on the run to the finish, when Brady held the lead. Still saddled with a penalty, he went hunting for Coutts to try and cancel the penalty.

Both crews had doused their spinnakers and were on starboard jibe, with Brady overlapped to leeward. But when Coutts broke the overlap Brady failed to head toward the finish and was penalised.

Now with two penalties he was forced to perform one 270-degree turn immediately, and that gave Coutts the room to sail to the finish unopposed. “If we don’t hit in that pre-start there’s probably no penalty, and maybe we go on to win,” said Oracle BMW tactician John Kostecki.

The deciding match between Coutts and Brady was somewhat anti-climatic. The winds had lightened to 8 to 10 knots and looked even lighter on the right. Kostecki chose the left side of the beat, but it proved to be the wrong call. “I didn’t see anything on the right,” Kostecki said. “Coutts’s crew said they wanted the left, too.”

The Oracle BMW Racing team gained redemption in the Petit Final when they defeated Poland’s Karol Jablonski and the Toscana Challenge team 2-0.

Coutts and Gilmour are two veterans of the match-race circuit. Each has won three match-racing world championships and they’ve staged many epic battles in the past.

The last time they met was in Bermuda last October, when Gilmour pulled out a 3-1 victory in the quarterfinal round. Gilmour went on to win that event while Coutts placed fifth.

Given Coutts’s rough, 1-5 start to the regatta, Gilmour seemed a good bet in the final. But Coutts showed his mastery once again. “He has an ability to make something out of nothing,” Gilmour said of the three times America's Cup winner.

The next event on the Swedish Match Tour is the ACI HTmobile Cup, 24-29 May, in Split, Croatia.

Toscana Elba Cup -final standings

1. Russell Coutts (NZL/Alinghi Team) 13-9, Euro 35,000
2. Peter Gilmour (AUS/Pizza-La Sailing Team) 15-5, Euro 25,000
3. Gavin Brady (NZL/Oracle BMW Racing) 16-4, Euro 15,000
4. Karol Jablonski (POL/Toscana Challenge) 10-9, Euro 8,000
5. Bertrand Pacé (FRA/Team France) 7-7, Euro 6,000
6. Jesper Radich (DEN/Team Denmark) 6-8, Euro5,000
7. Ed Baird (USA/Team Musto) 6-8, Euro 4,000
8. Magnus Holmberg (SWE/SeaLife Rangers) 5-9, Euro 2,000
9. Philippe Presti (FRA/le Défi) 4-7
10. John Cutler (NZL/Mascalzone Latino) 3-8
11. Michael Dunstan (AUS/OzBoyz Challenge) 3-8
12. Paolo Cian (ITA/Italian Challenge) 3-8

Day 7 Results
Final
Match 1: Russell Coutts d. Peter Gilmour
Match 2: Gilmour d. Coutts
Match 3: Coutts d. Gilmour

Petit Final
Match 1: Gavin Brady d. Karol Jablonski
Match 2: Brady d. Jablonski

Semifinal
Match 4: Russell Coutts d. Gavin Brady
Match 5: Coutts d. Gavin Brady

Swedish Match Tour scoreboard after five of eight events

1. Peter Gilmour (AUS/Pizza-La Sailing Team) 97 points
2. Magnus Holmberg (SWE/SeaLife Rangers) 49 points
3. Gavin Brady (NZL/Oracle BMW Racing) 45 points
4. Jesper Radich (DEN/Team Denmark) 43 points
5. Russell Coutts (NZL/Alinghi Team) 35 points
6. Ed Baird (USA/Team Musto) 31 points
7. Dean Barker (NZL/Omega Match Race Team) 24 points
8. Jesper Bank (DEN) 20 points
= Chris Dickson (NZL/Oracle BMW Racing) 20 points
= Kelvin Harrap (NZL/Team New Zealand) 20 points
= Terry Hutchinson (USA/Team Annapolis Volvo) 20 points

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