UIM Xcat Middle East Powerboat Series.
What do you need to campaign an extreme catamaran or XCat as they are known in this part of the world; boats best described as twin hulled, closed cockpit carbon fibre racing machines propelled across the water by two 250hp engines.
A class, which was locally rebranded three years ago and now boasts up to 20 teams and nine nationalities in the series. The UAE alone has seven teams, which are competing for the Middle East title and currently hold the top three positions after the first two of four rounds.
To buy a boat complete with engines will set you back up to AED 600,000 and the running costs for a season will add another AED 150,000. If this is within your budget you will also need the skill, lightning quick reactions and nerves of steel to cope with being in a pack of up to 20 boats speeding at over 130kph off the start line to face the variable conditions that an ocean can throw at you.
Then there’s the cockpit; a small cramped airtight space where you are sealed and strapped to your seat with limited visibility through a windscreen usually covered in sea spray and you have to rely on your instruments and teammate as much as visuals.
And don’t forget the heat, with four rounds; two held in Abu Dhabi and two held in Dubai the temperatures can be unbearable as events head towards the warmer months.
The two pilots, one who drives and one who decides the speed have to have complete trust in each other when ones turning the wheel and the other is hitting the gas, communication has to be perfect.
Some of the costs are offset by a generous amount of prize money sponsored by the Governments of Abu Dhabi and Dubai. With an overall purse of AED 2.7m for split over four races and shared between the first 15 boats, the series is an attractive option for teams form Europe and the US during their winter months. Nine nations have joined the circuit so far including Sweden, Italy, Qatar, Switzerland, Kuwait, UK, France, USA as well as the UAE. In terms of investment it brings an influx of teams, organisers, spectators and extensive PR around the world. Some of the teams have two boats, one that they leave in the UAE and the other they leave in Europe or the US for competition, other teams pay to have their boats shipped to other venues.
And what do teams think of the XCat class and racing in the UAE, we put the question to some of the international pilots;
Gary Ballough, who is part of the Swiss/USA team racing Manotel. ‘I think it’s the best world class racing in the world as it’s so professional. I’ve raced in the USA, Canada, Argentina, the Cayman Islands and the Bahamas and the UAE is definitely the best for me. I like the fact that it’s only one class racing and not a handicap system and it’s about the team that makes the difference of how you finish and not the boat. I love competing in fast action sports; I also race in the super cat, super cat lite, pro stock and super V classes in the States.’
Michel Karsenti, throttle man on the French team, Lux Media. ‘Dubai is a very technical racecourse with left and right turns, with flat and rough water. It was much better when there was a turn off of Jumeirah Beach Residence, but even without it is still a good course and so is the course in Abu Dhabi. I started racing the XCat because I thought it was a very competitive class where everybody was racing with the same engines and that the rulebook would be strictly enforced. I’ve been racing for 24 years and have a great passion for the sea, boats and speed.’
And what of the future; ‘Building on the success of the last seasons we are planning 6 rounds for 2011/12 including Fujairah and other Emirates in the circuit. Our five-year plan is to grow the class locally to have a solid foundation and also look at taking it overseas. We have been approached by some cities in the Middle and Far East, which is exciting,’ said Sid Bensalah, WPPA General Secretary and Race Promoter.
The XCat series is run under the Union Internationale Motonautique (UIM) who send their representative to oversee the running of each race and promoted by the World Professional Powerboat Association (WPPA). The races are open for the general public to walk around the dry pit area to have a look at the boats up close and then to view the race from the surrounding breakwater. Dates:
2011 UIM XCat Middle East Powerboat Series
Heat 3 – Abu Dhabi Grand Prix at 16:00 on Monday 21st March organised by Abu Dhabi International Sailing Club in conjunction with the UIM & WPPA. Racing will be along the Corniche
Heat 4 & Final – Dubai Grand Prix at 15:30 on Friday 25th March organised by Dubai International Marine Club in conjunction with the UIM & WPPA. Racing will be offshore from Mina Seyahi