Victory for Fazza 3 in the opening round of the UIM/WPPA Class 1 World Powerboat Championship was sealed by Arif Al Zafeen and Nadir Bin Hendi. Second place went to home favourites Sheikh Hassan Bin Jabor Al-Thani and Steve Curtis, with Class 1 debutant Mohammad Al Mehairi and Jean-Marc Sanchez claiming third place in a sun-kissed Qatar Marine Festival Grand Prix.
The reunited pairing of Al Zafeen and Bin Hendi powered through to a comfortable victory in the end, but they did not have it all their own way. A fantastic start by Qatar 95 saw the Edox Pole Position winner’s storm away with the early lead, but engine troubles forced them to retire on lap nine while leading the race. This cleared the way for Fazza 3 to take the first win of the season. With the experience of two world champions in the raceboat, they never looked in doubt of getting the season of to the perfect start. “I’m very happy with the win, but this season is much tougher, 95 and 96 are really strong and so are our team -mates in Victory 1,” said the returning Al Zafeen. A delighted Bin Hendi added: “We went neck-and- neck at the start, but they had the greater speed. Once they got in front, we had to push to the max. I am very happy to have won here for the second year in a row.”
Sheikh Hassan and Steve Curtis, in Qatar 96, grabbed second place in the team’s home grand prix. Having been happy to just finish on the podium in the run up to the race, the second place will be welcomed by the team although there were mixed reactions as it came at the expense of their team-mates, Qatar 95. Sheikh Hassan said: “We would have settled for third, it is unfortunate what happened to 95. We really wanted them to finish first.” Whilst Steve Curtis said: “The start here is so important, we had a good one, but we will be happier in the rough.”
The final podium place went to newcomer Al Mehairi and Sanchez. The new pairing were overjoyed with their first race together and the instant success they have achieved. Al Mehairi, who had set his sights on a podium finish prior to the race, said: “I’m very happy with my first race, the aim for the Victory team is always to finish on the podium.” While Sanchez, guiding a rookie driver to the podium for the third successive season in Doha, added: “I’m delighted with my new driver, this was our first time together and there is more to come.”
The early leaders Abdullah Al-Sulaiti and Matteo Nicolini had got off to a perfect start and pulled away from the chasing pack only to see all their hard work from the weekend come to a miserable end as an engine failure brought their challenge of claiming a win to a sudden halt. Despite their early retirement, Al-Sulaiti was upbeat: “Before it stopped, the gap was over 15 seconds. It was an excellent performance by the boat. It is a good sign, we were strong and fast.”
Giorgioffshore had a good start to the season finishing in fifth. The new pairing of Nicola Giorgi and Riccardo Calugi showed good speed and reliability as they look to build their partnership. Foresti & Suardi - Roscioli Hotels’ Giampaolo Montavoci and Francesco Pansini came through in sixth place, despite gearing problems hampering their efforts at the start and end of the race.
Now – controversy reigns
As the season progressed, and with just weeks to go before we see the Class 1 World Powerboats back in the region, Sheikh Hassan has withdrawn the team from the Championship citing a breach of rules by competitors as the reason.
Sheikh Hassan is not ruling out a return to racing, but insists that the rules must be implemented and enforced. “The decision for pulling the team out of the 2009 Championship was not based on the bad start on Sunday, 19 July in the Norwegian Grand Prix. The decision was made because of the very consistency of that team in breaking the rules and not respecting the comments made during the drivers briefing,” said Sheikh Hassan. “It was made clear to all drivers that aerial footage as well as onboard camera footage from the start boat would be available to govern the start.
“Disregarding all of these comments, and looking at their past history, it has always been the same, as the judges had closed their eyes to what happened, and waiting for a protest from a team to look at it.
“All of this is documented from 2006 onwards. Victory Team had been messing with the start and nothing has been made about it. The Judges had only penalised Qatar team on the spot in Spain, and forced the team to do the long lap, but I don’t know why the judges cannot do the same with Victory Team.
“The only reason for the team to pull out is because the WPPA has not been implementing the rules, and we will only come back if the rules are being implemented and enforced.”
To follow Class 1 Powerboats, go to www.class-1.com
First Published in Men's Passion Issue #15