Defending champion exits

The defending champion of the Round Britain Powerboat Race, Fabio Buzzi, has retired.

The legendary Italian designer has flown back to Lake Como after a disastrous bid to retain the prestigious trophy.

It is an ignominious end to a campaign that saw him revamp one of his own designs for a shot at glory once again.

The boat he chose is better known as Cesa, easily recognisable with her aerofoil over the engine bay, one of the most successful powerboats of all time.

Despite fitting the classic 44ft hull with no less than four Fiat Powertrain Technologies engines for an astounding 2,400hp total (and renaming her Red FPT), it was poor navigation that let the Italian down at the race start on Saturday.

He was one of two boats that hit a submarine barrage off Portsmouth, moments before the gun fired.

The underwater barrage is well-charted but there has been criticism from some quarters of race organisers for not doing more to warn non-local crews of the potential hazard so close to the start line.

Buzzi damaged his boat’s rudder and was forced to make a high-profile exit, his dreams of retaining the title already in tatters.

He won plaudits for coming back and racing, and in the next leg from Milford Haven across the Irish Sea showed his class in an exciting duel with friend and rival Hannes Bohinc, in Wettpunkt.com.

The two posted speeds of more than 100mph, but as Buzzi pushed the pace further, Red FPT suffered gearbox failure and he turned back for Wales.

A spokesman for the team said: “In Portsmouth and then in Milford Haven, technicians from FB Design and mechanics of FPT performed miracles to repair the damage to rudders, steering system and gear boxes.

“The impact with the submarine barrage on the first day of the race was devastating.

“Immediately it appeared there was damage only to the steering system, but subsequently there were repercussions for the propulsion system.

“In particular, in the third stage, the damage spread to the supporting structures of transmissions, no longer aligned after the accident.

“A complete repair to enable the boat to withstand the competition, can be made, at this point, only in the shipyard.”

He added: “The race has lost its biggest player, the winner of the 1984 event.”

Buzzi won the last race in 1984, driving White Iveco.

No doubt he will be willing on his team boat Blue FPT, whose navigator is the 75-year-old Dag Pike, who was navigator for Buzzi’s winning team in White Iveco 24 years ago.

Blue FPT is second overall and on current form stands a good chance of overall victory in the 2008 race.

However Blue FPT’s second overall after four legs may change later today, when a race committee will rule on alleged course infringements.

Blue FPT was one of several boats alleged to have driven across the corner of a no-go conservation area off Wales.

Picture: Buzzi (left) and one of his crew discuss options mid-Solent after their disastrous start line collision.