The clock is counting down to the first round of the UIM Class 1 World Powerboat Championship, the Honda British Grand Prix in Plymouth on Sunday, July 17 and to what promises to be an intriguing and closely contested season

TAGS:

The clock is counting down to the first round of the UIM Class 1 World Powerboat Championship, the Honda British Grand Prix in Plymouth on Sunday, July 17 and to what promises to be an intriguing and closely contested season. A combination of revised driver pairings, several all-new line-ups plus a mix of new rulings makes it impossible to predict a race winner let alone the eventual outcome of the 2005 title race.

Ten boats will line-up on Plymouth Sound for the 18-lap; 97.75Nm Honda British Grand Prix – supported for the second year by two rounds of the Honda Formula 4-Stroke Series – and six are potential race winners and possible title challengers.

Victory Team head to Plymouth with the strongest showing over the previous four seasons taking race honours on three occasions, Spirit of Norway taking one with Maritimo, Jotun and Qatar all enjoying podium finishes.

But whilst a race win is the immediate focus, winning the championship is the ultimate reward; Spirit of Norway’s quest for a fifth world title is made all the more intriguing with Norwegian Bard Eker taking over the driver’s seat from Bjorn Rune Gjelsten to team up with the six times and defending World Champion, Steve Curtis. Eker, who is also the new team owner, is naturally a little nervous about the new season, pointing out that the boat, the throttleman and the mechanics are the same and that the only new piece in the team is him. However, Curtis, who is arguably the sport’s most successful racer, sits comfortably with it and after pre-season testing in Norway rates their chances as good.

Victory’s line up is unchanged from last season with the defending European Champions, Ali Nasser and Ali Al Qama in Victory 7 and Mohammed Al Marri and Jean Marc Sanchez in Victory 77. It is a formidable two-boat attack and Victory will undoubtedly be amongst the early favourites to lift the world crown, a trophy which they have won six times since entering the championship in 1993, but last held in 2001.

Joining the Spirit versus Victory battle are Sheikh Hassan bin Jabor Al-Thani and Matteo Nicolini in Qatar 96, who with just one full season under their belts have already impressed with their pace and performances. They are proven race winners, taking their maiden win in Oslo last year and Team Principal Sheikh Hassan believes that they have the package to win and considers finishing second as impressive as finishing last. This year Team Qatar also fields a two-boat entry with Class 1 newcomer Abdullah Al-Sulaiti making the move from the QMSF Formula 2000 team to partner Italian throttleman Lino di Biase.

But the title race is not a four-boat affair by any means and adding further spice are Maritimo Offshore and Negotiator. Bill Barry-Cotter sat out last season and Peter McGrath switched to Negotiator on secondment but rejoins Maritimo to take over driving duties. The return of Barry-Cotter and McGrath is good news for the championship. The Aussie-New Zealand pairing is a no nonsense race outfit prepared to rub paint and stand their ground. They know they can win races and grab podium finishes and after finishing third overall in the title race in 2002 and 2003 will quietly be eyeing the title.

To replace McGrath, team owner-driver Chris Parsonage has brought in former Class 1 World Champion Randy Scism to throttle Negotiator. After a podium on his Class 1 race debut in Portugal in 2004, Parsonage’s season faltered slightly, as mechanical gremlins took over, but if the extensive pre-season work and modifications carried out on the boat pays off, expect to see Negotiator mixing it up at the sharp end, especially with Maritimo as both outfits are running identical hulls and similar engine packages.

Last season GFN Gibellato was the most reliable outfit in the championship with Giampaolo Montavoci and Domenico Cirilli the only pairing to take points in every race to finish a very creditable fifth overall. This year, however, they parade a more competitive new boat and engine package and expectations are high in the Italian-Spanish camp of an even stronger showing and should the front runners falter will be looking for more than just top six finishes and points.

Roscioli Hotels and Jotun are running the only two non Victory built hulls on show and both teams field revised or new line-ups; Roscioli’s Nicola Giorgi is joined in the Cougar by his former race-mate Tomaso Polli who he last raced with in 2002 to make up the youngest pairing in the championship with the all new Norwegian pairing of Jorn Tandberg and Christian Zaborowski stepping up from ProVee to make their Class 1 debuts in the Marine Technology built Jotun, a boat capable of podium finishes on past showings.

If the title race is too close to call – so is the outcome of the Honda British Grand Prix. The setting is spectacular with the revised 18-lap, 97.75Nm course providing a stern test for the competitors and will no doubt offer its usual mix of conditions with the calmer water of Plymouth Sound and probable rough seas outside the breakwater making the choice of set-up and propeller selection the defining factors. But one thing is certain, the season ahead and the Honda British Grand Prix promise to be as spectacular as ever.

Race distance: 18 laps, 97.75Nm

Start lap 5.33Nm 16 x 5.25Nm laps 1 x Long lap 8.42 Nm

First held: 2001

2004 Race winners: Ali Nasser/Ali Al Qama – Victory 7

2004 Pole Position winners: Ali Nasser/Ali Al Qama – Victory 7

2003 Race winners: A Al Tayer/A Al Qama – Victory 7

2002 Race winners: B R Gjelsten/Steve Curtis – Spirit of Norway

2001 Race winners: M Al Marri/S Al Tayer – Victory 77

2005 TEAMS

1 SPIRIT OF NORWAY

Bard Eker (D) Norway / Steve Curtis (T) GB

7 VICTORY

Ali Nasser (D) UAE / Ali Al Qama (T) UAE

8 GFN GIBELLATO

Domenico Cirilli (D) Spain / Giampaolo Montavoci (T) Italy

9 ROSCIOLI HOTELS

Tomaso Polli (D) Italy / Nicola Giorgi (T) Italy

11 MARITIMO OFFSHORE

Peter McGrath (D) New Zealand / Bill Barry-Cotter (T) Australia

50 NEGOTIATOR

Chris Parsonage (D) GB / Randy Scism (T) USA

77 VICTORY

Mohammed Al Marri (D) UAE / Jean Marc Sanchez (T) FR

90 JOTUN

Christian Zaborowski (D) Norway / Jorn Tandberg (T) Norway

95 QATAR

Abdullah Al-Sulaiti (D) Qatar / Lino di Biase (T) Italy

96 QATAR

HE Hassan bin Jabor Al Thani (D) Qatar / Matteo Nicolini (T) Italy

EVENT TIMETABLE

Saturday, 16 July

09.00/11.00 – Official Practice (on race course)

11.15/12.00 – Honda Formula 4-Stroke, 150HP race

12.15/13.00 – Honda Formula 4-Stroke, 225HP race

13.45/15.00 – POLE POSITION

Sunday, 17 July

10.00/11.00 – Official Practice (on racecourse, including long lap)

11.30/12.00 – Honda Formula 4-Stroke, 150HP race

12.15/12.45 – Honda Formula 4-Stroke, 225HP race

14.00 – HONDA BRITISH GRAND PRIX (followed by podium presentation)