Little to choose between leading World Series contenders
Teams and competitors in the Class 1 world championship are poised to renew rivalries in the Qatar Marine Festival Grand Prix on Saturday (April 25) – the first race of the season and the eleventh to be held in the Qatari Capital City of Doha in eight years.
Victory Team, the defending champions, want a first Grand Slam, Qatar want a first World title and all their rivals want a piece of the action. Class 1 looks set for a captivating and possibly unpredictable season.
Ten boats will line up for the 21-lap, 96.45Nm Qatar Marine Festival Grand Prix; but with the introduction of new rules governing the use of electronics, limited propeller choice, new teams and a handful of untried driver-pairings, the outcome of the season-opener is hard to predict.
Dubai’s Victory Team, the defending World, Middle East and Edox Pole Position Champions, will start amongst the favourites for race honours and have rolled out three World Champions as they launch their bid to retain their crowns and hunt down a fourth win in Qatari waters. Their main aim is to achieve the elusive grand slam of winning all four titles in one season – only ever achieved bySpirit of Norwayin 2003 – and described by Victory’s General Manager, Gianfranco Venturelli, as ‘mission impossible’. Defending Champion, Nadir Bin Hendi, is joined in last year’s winning boat – now namedFazza 3- by the 2007 World and European Champion, Arif Al Zafeen. He will be looking to repeat his 2008 win in Doha, whilst his former partner, Jean-Marc Sanchez, is once again called on by the team’s hierarchy to draw on all his experience and steer another rookie – Mohammad Al Mehairi – through his first season, running inVictory 1.
The Qatar Team pose the greatest threat to Victory’s aspirations and Sheikh Hassan Bin Jabor Al-Thani is in absolutely no doubt that his team can win the World title and can kick-start their season-long campaign with a win on home waters. Sheikh Hassan, still looking for his first win in Doha, again lines up with former World Champion Steve Curtis – a five-times winner in Qatar – and will more than likely run the repaired and modifiedQatar 96with Skema V12s, whilst team-mates Matteo Nicolini and Abdullah Al-Sulaiti, who still hold the in-house bragging rights after taking the team’s only win in 2008 and fancy their chances of title glory this season, line up in the Sterling V8-poweredQatar 95, with Al-Sulaiti looking for his second win in front of a partisan crowd.
The bid to oust the sport’s two titans and upset the form book, is headed by the defending European Champion, Jorn Tandberg, who reforms his winning partnership with fellow Norwegian, Christian Zaborowski, running the Mercury-Class 1, V8-powered scarletMTI, Welmax.
Maritimo Australia is the third team fielding a two-boat line-up and will be hoping to repeat the success that team owner, Bill Barry-Cotter and Peter McGrath enjoyed in Doha, when they took their maiden Class 1 win at the first Grand Prix held in Qatar in 2002. Twenty-one-year-old, Tom Barry-Cotter and Pal Virik Nilsen form the youngest partnership in Class 1, but can boast the most races and cockpit time together of any driver-throttleman combination in the Championship, and will run their new hull,Maritimo 11, with the straight-talking New Zealander, Peter McGrath, joined by Italian, Giorgio Manuzzi, inMaritimo 12, the boat the team debuted in Dubai last season – both outfits opting to run Maritimo Performance V8 power-plants.
Throughout the fleet, new driver-combinations dominate, adding to the unpredictability of the race outcome; throttleman, Giampaolo Montavoci and Francesco Pansini, back racing in Class 1 after a 13-year absence, team up for the first time inForesti & Suardi – Roscioli Hotels.
Nicola Giorgi, who grabbed his first Class 1 podium in the penultimate race in Dubai last year, will be looking to build on that success and is joined in the Giorgi V12-poweredGiorgioffshoreby the team’s test-driver Riccardo Calugi, making his Class 1 debut, with the experienced Giovanni Carpitella partnering relative newcomer, Mohammed Abdelkader Ahmed, inSpirit of Spainin which Carpitella raced last year, taking an impressive fourth in the final race of the season.
The Qatar Marine Festival Grand Prix weekend kicks off with a two-hour official practice session on Thursday afternoon (23 April), followed by a second practice session on Friday morning ahead of the Edox Pole Position official qualifying session. A final practice session on Saturday morning precedes the 96.45Nm Qatar Marine Festival Grand Prix, run on the notoriously tricky Doha Bay circuit – which has seen some spectacular racing and incidents over the years – consisting of one 5.15Nm start lap, 18 race laps of 4.5Nm and two compulsory 5.15Nm long laps.