Five-time World Champion Guido Cappellini of Como of Italy proved to the powerboat racing world that a 2.5 litre Mercury engine can not only last the distance but also take the winning flag when he achieved a 3.43 second victory over fellow Italian Francesco Cantando at the Portuguese Grand Prix.
The opening round of the 2000 Formula I world championship series, Cappellini, who won here last season, took the lead on the first lap easily passing American Scott Gillman. Gillman, the 1997 World Champion from Basalt, Colorado, had set fastest time in the pre-race qualifying rounds with a 50.97 second lap time round the nine-buoy, 1.7 kilometre course on the Arade River.
The three-time American Champion had been forced to revert to his smaller two-litre Mercury power-head after blowing his third and final 2.5 litre engine in a week. Gillman, third after the first lap, stayed in that position until a problem with a trim pump took forced his retirement on the 25th lap.
Italian Francesco Cantando (Singha Beer DAC/Mercury 2.5 litre) rocketed to second place to come within 1.7 seconds of the flying Cappellini before settling for second overall. It was likeable Italian’s first podium place for two years and erases a year of frustration where he finished 14th in the title chase with a mere six points. Former World Champion Fabrizio Bocca (Rainbow/Dac/Mercury Two-litre) also returned to the podium for the first time in two years by finishing third. Starting in fifth pole position, he dropped back to seventh and even with a lot less horsepower, came within 1.32 seconds of filling second slot. He was however still the first of the two-litre contender to finish.
The exciting performance of the meeting was set by local rookie Duarte Benavente (Singha Beer/Burgess/Mercury Two-litre) from nearby Lisbon who was racing in front of a home crowd. He started seventh on the grid and cautiously moved slowly through the fleet to finish 23 seconds behind Bocca in fourth place.
Another charger to the front of the pack was the team-mate of race winner Cappellini, Fabio Comparato (Laserline/Castrol/Dac/Mercury 2.5 Litre), competing in his second Formula I season after previously winning the world F2 title. Unfortunately he was ruled against for using an illegal exhaust while qualifying, had his fastest time erased and was forced to start 15th on the grid. His eventual fifth placing however was a rewarding result for someone using a relatively small two-litre power-unit.
Yet another newcomer opening the eyes of the racing world was 25 year-old Awad Al Qubaisi (Emirates/Abu Dhabi Tourism/Dac Mercury Two-litre) from Abu Dhabi who left his hospital bed on Saturday to finish in 6th after starting 14th on the grid. The result gave this former offshore racer his first F1 championship points.
Italian veteran Franco Leidi (Waircom Mare Magnum DAC/Mercury Two-litre) who finished seventh achieved his best result since a similar placing in Istanbul last season while fellow Italian, Massimo Roggiero (Petrobras DAC/Mercury Two-litre) was no so lucky. Lying fourth for almost three quarters of the race, he began dropping back with engine problems in the closing stages: losing as much as three places in the final lap.
Racing Formula I for the first time, Paul Gaiser (Petrobras/Dac/Mercury Two-litre) from Brazil, team-mate of Roggiero, picked up two championship points after finishing ninth: five laps behind the winning Cappellini. Drivers failing to finish were Hungarian pilot Rudy Mihaldinecz (Dunaferr/RMA-Seebold/Mercury Two-litre) who at one time lay fourth, while Fuchs/Eurobet team-mates Philippe Dessertenne and former British World Champion Jonathan Jones (Burgess/OMC) both had trouble early with Jones dropping out after only eight laps after setting fastest time in the pre-race warm-ups. Dessertenne retired on the 11th lap, while two other OMC teams, Sami Selio (Velden/OMC) from Finland and Carlos Maidana (Texaco Havoline/Burgess