Qatar 96 sets the pace - Qatar Grand Prix

Qatar Grand Prix. Official practice Photo Simon Palfrader© - Qatar Grand Prix 2008

Sheikh Hassan Bin Jabor Al-Thani and Steve Curtis fired the first warning shots across the bows of their championship rivals, posting the fastest time in today’s official practice session for Saturday’s Qatar Grand Prix, the opening round of the 2008 Class 1 World Powerboat Championship.

Sheikh Hassan and Curtis’ first competitive outing together in Qatar 96 – the ex Spirit of Norway 10 – in which Curtis raced last season and won four of his eight world titles was an impressive opening gambit by the new partnership, setting fastest times on both their laps, the best, 2m 40.40secs on their opening run. 'It was good to get out on the water and put in some quick times – to be immediately quick and go fastest is good news for the team,' said Curtis. 'We have already established a good understanding in the boat in a short space of time and with more time on the water and one or two adjustments we can improve our times.'

With eight out of the nine boats lining up this weekend fielding new driver-pairings, today’s session was – for some outfits – the first real opportunity to shakedown the boats, with some teams taking a more cautious approach.

Victory opened their season-account with one half of their defending World and European Championship partnership, Arif Saif Al Zafeen, setting the second quickest time of the day with his new throttleman, Nadir Bin Hendi, in Victory 1 whilst AL Zafeen’s former partner, Jean-Marc Sanchez and Victory Team’s newest recruit, Abdullah Al Mehairbi, making his Class 1 Championship debut, went fifth quickest in Victory 7. 'For us today was not about pushing hard or setting the best time, but an opportunity for Abdullah to get used to the course and the conditions, said Sanchez.

For Qatar 95’s Matteo Nicolini times were all important as he and driver Abdullah Al-Sulaiti found themselves almost five seconds off the pace of their team-mates, posting third fastest. 'Times are important. You need to know where you are in terms of performance and also where your rivals are,' he said. 'The conditions were very difficult out there. The wind on the turns at either end of the circuit was very strong and the circuit is not easy in these conditions.'

Qatar Grand Prix. Official practice Photo Simon Palfrader© - Qatar Grand Prix 2008

The wild card entry of Luca Nicolini and Mohammed Al-Nasser, another Class 1 debutant, produced an impressive showing in fourth place, running in the Class 1-Mercury powered, White 4. Giampaolo Montavoci and Kolbjorn Selmer, running in their second boat – their preferred boat sidelined in Italy – posted the sixth fastest time of the afternoon ahead of Nicola Giorgi and Giorgio Manuzzi, taking their first outing in their Michael Peters-designed,Victory hull. 'It was a great moment for the team to run the new boat, but today was just our first outing so we ran a very cautious set-up and took it easy. We now have to get used to the boat and over the next two days we can up the pace.' said Nicola Giorgi.

Sheikh Hassan and Steve Curtis will now look to carry today’s form into tomorrow’s Edox Pole Position, with Curtis, the defending Pole Position Champion looking to extend his unbeaten run in qualifying to eight races.

First Official Practice
1. Qatar 96 - H Al-Thani (D) Qatar / S Curtis (T) England – 2m 40.40s
2. Victory 1 – A Al Zafeen (D) UAE / N Bin Hendi (T) UAE – 2m 42.65s
3. Qatar 95 - A Al-Sulaiti (D) Qatar / Matteo Nicolini (T) Italy – 2m 45.01s
4. White 4 – M Al Nasser (D) Qatar / L Nicolini (T) Italy – 2m 51.82s
5. Victory 7 – A Al Mehairbi (D) UAE / JM Sanchez (T) France – 2m 54.04s
6. Foresti & Suardi 8 – K Selmer (D) Norway / G Montavoci (T) Italy – 3m 08.68s
7. SeveneleveN 18 - G Manuzzi (D) Italy / N Giorgi (T) Italy – 3m 29.04s
8. Negotiator 50 - B Eker (D) Norway / C Parsonage (T) England - DNS
9. Jotun 90 - B Jacobsen (D) Norway / J Tandberg (T) Norway - DNS
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