Ninth world title dream looks out of reach

Victory 77‘s Arif Saif Al Zafeen and Jean-Marc Sanchez inched nearer to taking the coveted Class 1 world title after winning the sixth round of the offshore series, the Qatar Grand Prix, on Saturday. The result gives the crew a 22 point lead in the overall standings ahead of the final two rounds in Dubai in two weeks while breakdown leaves Steve Curtis and Bjorn Gjelsten with little chance of title success. Southampton man Curtis and driver Gjelsten now need victories in the final two races, with Victory 77 and Qatar, their two big rivals, getting no points at all. It is an unlikely scenario, although Spirit of Norway is still a strong contender for an overall third position on the podium at the end of the season.

Despite this Sheikh Hassan Bin Jabor Al-Thani and Matteo Nicolini kept their title hopes alive, bringing Qatar 96 home in second place with Chris Parsonage and Bard Eker producing their best performance of the year aboard Negotiator with a well deserved third place.

But for the defending World Champions, Bjorn Gjelsten and Steve Curtis driving Spirit of Norway, who started from pole position, there was bitter disappointment. They were forced to retire on the 15th lap with mechanical trouble leaving any hope of a sixth world title beyond reach.

The race was all but decided on the opening lap. Victory 77 produced a spectacular performance moving from fourth place on the start line to head the fleet by the end of the lap ahead of Spirit of Norway followed by Qatar 96 and Negotiator.

“We had a good start and arrived at the first turn alongside Spirit,” said Jean-Marc Sanchez. “We stayed on the outside and I knew if we could stay with them we had the inside line on the next turn. It was very close. We nearly touched but managed to push them over a little before opening up. We watched for their long laps and then took ours. We lost some time in the middle of the race passing back markers but the boat ran well and our set-up was perfect.”

With the three title rivals holding station and opening up a lead, Negotiator came under increasing pressure from a hard charging Jotun, that grabbed fourth place on the fourth lap. Negotiator responded immediately to regain the position one lap later before a technical problem ended Jotun‘s race. Negotiator then held off a challenge from Abdullah Al-Sulaiti and Luca Nicolini driving Qatar 95, who in turn had Victory 7, which dropped from second at the start to eighth after hooking on the first corner, breathing down their necks.

Over the course of the next six laps the leading trio entered their long laps. Qatar 96 was first to go followed by Spirit of Norway and the race leaders. By the 13th lap, with both long laps taken, Spirit of Norway had reduced the gap behind Victory 77 from 12 to four seconds before an engine problem destroyed their title bid.

Now in an unassailable position Victory 77 were able to cruise home and take the chequered flag with Qatar 96 crossing the line over a minute behind.

.”It was a hard and fast race. We made a good start but I think we lacked a little in top end speed. But the performance of Victory 77 was very strong today. What was important was for us was to finish on the podium and we are still in with a chance of the title” said Nicolini.

For Chris Parsonage and Bard Eker, the first podium of the year for Negotiator was a rich reward for the team.

“This is a great result for us and I am delighted for the team. The guys have worked hard all weekend – all season – to get us here,” said Parsonage. “We had a bit of a tussle with Jotun and Qatar 95 but eventually got into our stride. The boat ran well and now we can concentrate on further improvement for Dubai.”

Qatar 95 were able to stave off the persistent challenge of Victory 7, with Spirit of Norway 20 taking their third top six finish of the season with Foresti & Suardi finishing in the points in Seventh while SeveneleveN retired early in the race.

The series now heads to Dubai for the Mina Seyahi Grand Prix on December 1, the first of two races in a week. The title contest is now lies between Victory 77 and Qatar 96.

QATAR GRAND PRIX, DOHA – RESULTS

1. Victory 77 – A Al Zafeen (UAE)/JM Sanchez (FR)

2. Qatar 96 – H Al Thani (QAT)/M Nicolini (ITA)

3. Negotiator 50 – B Eker (NOR)/C Parsonage (GB)

4. Qatar 95 – A Al Sulaiti (QAT)/L Nicolini (ITA)

5. Victory 7 – T Al Sayed (UAE)/N B Hendi (UAE)

6. Spirit of Norway 20 – T Barry-Cotter (AUS)/P Nilsen (NOR)

7. Foresti & Suardi 8 – K Selmer (NOR)/G Montavoci (ITA)

8. Spirit of Norway 10 – B Gjelsten (NOR)/S Curtis (GB)

Jotun 90 – C Zaborowski (NOR)/J Tandberg (NOR)

SeveneleveN 18 – T Polli (ITA)/N Giorgi (ITA)

CLASS 1 WORLD POWERBOAT CHAMPIONSHIP – points after round six of eight

1. Victory 77 – A Al Zafeen (UAE)/JM Sanchez (FR) – 116pts

2. Qatar 96 – H Al Thani (QAT)/M Nicolini (ITA) – 94pts

3. Spirit of Norway 10 – B Gjelsten (NOR)/S Curtis (GB) – 76pts

4. Victory 7 – T Al Sayed (UAE)/N B Hendi (UAE) – 53pts

5. Qatar 95 – A Al Sulaiti (QAT)/L Nicolini (ITA) – 49pts

6. Negotiator 50 – B Eker (NOR)/C Parsonage (GB) – 37pts

7. Foresti & Suardi 8 – M Pennesi (ITA)/G Montavoci (ITA) – 35pts

8. Spirit of Norway 20 – T Barry-Cotter (AUS)/P Nilsen (NOR) – 29pts

9. SeveneleveN 18 – T Polli (ITA)/N Giorgi (ITA) – 14pts

10. Jotun 90 – C Zaborowski (NOR)/J Tandberg (NOR) – 12pts

11. Fainplast 2 – K Selmer (NOR)/M Esperto (ITA) – 5pts