Reigning Class 1 World Powerboat Champion Arif Saif Al Zafeen made the perfect start to the defence of his title, winning the Qatar Grand Prix, the opening round of the Class 1 World Powerboat Championship, in an emphatic manner.
Partnered by throttleman, Nadir bin Hendi, the Victory 1 duo led for the majority of the 20-lap, 95.60Nm race to win by more than 26 seconds from Qatar’s Sheikh Hassan bin Jabor Al-Thani and Britain’s Steve Curtis in Qatar 96. Third home, some two minutes further adrift were Victory Team’s Abdullah Al Mehairbi and Jean Marc-Sanchez in Victory 7.
For Al Zafeen and Bin Hendi it was a flawless display after qualifying in Pole Position in what was their first Grand Prix together. Despite being beaten in the race to the first turn by Norway’s Jorn Tandberg and Bjorge Jacobsen in Jotun, the Dubai pairing took advantage of their superior set-up to storm past the Norwegians mid-way through the first lap.
Despite early pressure from Abdulla Al Sulaiti and Matteo Nicolini in Qatar 95, the Victory 1 crew was never seriously challenged and enjoyed a trouble-free run to the chequered flag. For throttleman Bin Hendi it was a perfect start to his partnership with defending champion Al Zafeen. 'We were neck and neck with Jotun to the first turn but we didn’t want to make any mistakes and decided to let them go, stay on their tail and get them on the inside,' said a delighted Bin Hendi. 'We didn’t give it everything but we certainly pushed for a few laps before saving the engines to make sure everything was fine and we got the win.'
With twenty points in the bag from the first round of the eight-race series, the Victory 1 crew lead the standings, but they will be well aware of the threat they face this season from runners-up Sheikh Hassan and Steve Curtis.
After surviving a high-speed crash that all but destroyed their boat, Qatar 96, during the previous day’s Edox Pole Position, Sheikh Hassan and Curtis were forced to turn to their spare boat, powered by Mercury V8 power-plants as opposed to the Skema V12s of their original boat. And second place just 24 hours after being pulled from Doha Bay is more than they could have expected, or hoped for. 'The way I see it is we are five points behind Victory 1 and that’s a far better position than I was in this time last year,' said Curtis. 'The spare boat is nowhere near the pace of the Victory boat so we knew that if they held it together they’d be well ahead of us. Under those circumstances, I’ll take second any day of the week.'
Equally delighted with third place was Jean-Marc Sanchez, the man who partnered Al Zafeen to the World and European crowns in 2007. With rookie driver Abdullah Al Mehairbi, Sanchez battled trim and engine trouble to stay in the hunt long enough to take third. 'We are very lucky to get third but we’ll take it,' smiled the Frenchman. 'From the start I felt we had no acceleration, and then we lost the trim. The left engine was in trouble so it simply was a case of making it to the finish.'
Less fortunate was the Anglo-Norwegian pairing of Chris Parsonage and Bard Eker who spun and rolled out of the race in Negotiator. Although both men escaped relatively unscathed from their upturned raceboat, 2005 World Champion Eker was taken away on a stretcher and treated for racing fuel in his eyes. It was a disappointing end for Parsonage and Eker who were running in third place and on course for a podium finish, when Negotiator mysteriously lost power, hooked and then rolled on lap 17 of 20.
There was equal frustration and disappointment for Matteo Nicolini and Abdullah Al-Sulaiti, who, after passing Jotun on lap two to move into second place, settled into a comfortable rhythm and for the next thirteen laps a podium had a looked a certainty, until an engine problem forced them to slow and lose places, eventually finishing in fourth place.
Giampaolo Montavoci and Kolbjorn Selmer were satisfied with their weekend’s work after dragging every ounce of performance out of their number two boat to achieve an excellent result, bringing Foresti & Suardi home in fifth place.
SeveneleveN’s Nicola Giorgi and Giorgio Manuzzi, running in their Michael Peters-designed, Victory hull for the first time and in only their third race together also produced an impressive showing taking sixth place. But for Jorn Tandberg and Bjorge Jacobsen, there was bitter disappointment. After running in third place for nine laps, a gearbox problem ended their hopes on lap 12.
The 2008 Class 1 World Powerboat Championship now heads to Europe for round two and the Montenegrin Grand Prix in Budva on Sunday, 25 May.
Qatar Grand Prix – round 1
1. Victory 1 – A Al Zafeen (UAE) / N Bin Hendi (UAE) –
2. Qatar 96 - H Al-Thani (Qatar) / S Curtis (England) + 00.26,86
3. Victory 7 – A Al Mehairbi (UAE) / JM Sanchez (France) + 02.32,59
4. Qatar 95 - A Al-Sulaiti (Qatar) / Matteo Nicolini (Italy) + 1lap
5. Foresti & Suardi 8 – K Selmer (Norway) / G Montavoci (Italy) + 2laps
6. SeveneleveN 18 - G Manuzzi (Italy) / N Giorgi (Italy) + 3laps
7. Negotiator 50 - B Eker (Norway) / C Parsonage (England) +4laps
8. Jotun 90 - B Jacobsen (Norway) / J Tandberg (Norway) – dnf
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