Competition hots up in Qatar

The first official practise session of the opening round of the Class 1 world offshore championship season took place in Doha, Qatar, today (Friday) with theVictoryandQatarteams dominating proceedings. Yet with the top three posting lap times just three tenths of a second apart, the potential winners of the first race and the championship as a whole is no clearer than it was prior to the boats being put in the water.

Last year’s World Champion, Nadir Bin Hendi, and 2007 Champion Arif Al Zafeen struck the first blow in their newly namedFazza 3. The partnership, which charged to victory on this course last year before Al Zafeen’s racing injury, set the early pace and as they posted ever faster lap times they could not be caught by the chasing pack, finishing with a time of 02.44.17.

“I have been waiting a long time to make my comeback, after 11 months out of the boat. Driving is my dream, so I’m very happy to be back,” said Al Zafeen about his return to Class 1 racing.

A return to Qatar and the site of their spectacular crash in 2008, Sheikh Hassan bin Jabor Al- Thani and Steve Curtis took until their third and final lap to post their best time of 02.44.32 to go second quickest in their rebuilt,Qatar 96. Steve Curtis said:

We are here to win; we need to dial in the boat once again to go faster still.”

Whilst team-mates Abdullah Al-Sulaiti and Matteo Nicolini, who ended the session third with a 02.44.50, look determined to have an even more successful season than 2008.

“We are looking to win the 2009 championship and to win our home grand prix will give our crew great motivation for the rest of the season, said Abdullah Al-Sulaiti “Reliability is the most important thing this season, but we have what it takes to get there.”

Jean-Marc Sanchez, tasked with bringing through another rookie after his huge success in the last two seasons, and Mohammed Al Mehairi posted times just a few seconds off the pace with 02.47.54 to go fourth fastest, with last season’s European Champion Jorn Tandberg, throttling theWelmax, reunited with his 2007 partner Christian Zaborowski, completing the top five ahead of tomorrow’s Edox Pole Position, with a time of 02.48.59.

Maritimo Australia produced a mixed start to their 2009 season;Maritimo 11’s Tom Barry-Cotter and Pal Virik Nilsen thought they had hit some serious trouble when a fire alarm went off. It turned out to be a false alarm and they went on to post the sixth fastest time of the session with a 02.50.70, taking four seconds off their pervious flying lap. Whilst team mates Peter McGrath and relative newcomer Giorgio Manuzzi, failed to complete a lap after their drop box pressure started to fluctuate.

Aurantium’s Giovanni Carpitella and Christian Rivolta posted their best time of 02.53.96 on their first lap, but were unable to better that in their subsequent two laps. Giampaolo Montavoci, alongside his new driver Francesco Pansini who is back in Class 1 after a 13-year absence, were off the pace in their first session together inForest & Suardi Roscioli Hotels, posting a fastest lap time of 03.05.56 on day one of the weekend. Whilst Giorgioffshore’s Nicola Giorgi and Riccardo Calugi endured a frustrating start to the season after electronic problems prevented them from getting in the water.

QATAR FIRST PRACTICE SESSION – Official Times

1. Fazza 3 – A Al Zafeen (UAE) / N Bin Hendi (UAE) – 02.44.17

2. Qatar 96 – H Al-Thani (QAT) / S Curtis (GBR) – 02.44.32

3. Qatar 95 – A Al-Sulaiti (QAT) / M Nicolini (ITA) – 02.44.50

4. Victory 1 – M Al Mehairi (UAE) / JM Sanchez (FRA) – 02.47.54

5. Welmax 90 – C Zaborowski (NOR) / J Tandberg (NOR) – 02.48.59

6. Maritimo 11 – T Barry-Cotter (AUS) / PV Nilsen (NOR) – 02.50.70

7. Aurantium 10 – C Rivolta (ITA) / G Carpitella (ITA) – 02.53.96

8. Foresti & Suardi – Roscioli Hotels 8 – F Pansini (ITA) / G Montavoci (ITA) – 03.05.56

9. Maritimo 12 – G Manuzzi (SMR) / P McGrath (NZL) – DNS

10. Giorgioffshore 18