After a two month break, Class 1 resumes once again with the Qatar Grand Prix tomorrow (November 5) marking the start of an intensive period of racing in the Middle East.
After a two month break, Class 1 resumes once again with the Qatar Grand Prix tomorrow (November 5) marking the start of an intensive period of racing in the Middle East. There will be two races in five days in Doha (5-7 / 10-12 November) followed by two in seven days in Dubai, UAE (30 November – 2 December / 7-9 December). Rivalry amongst Class 1’s leading protagonists is intensifying, the title race is wide open and the stakes are high.
Qatar 96 has one title under its belt, the European Championship with its driver Sheikh Hassan bidding to become the first Qatari to win the world title and co-driver Nicolini, the first Italian to lift the crown for ten years.
Spirit of Norway has been the dominant force in Class 1 for the last three years and is chasing a fourth consecutive world title that would give Norweigian Bard Eker his first and Steve Curtis his seventh championship with Victory 77’s Al Marri and Sanchez looking to reaffirm the team’s credentials by recapturing the title it has won six times in 12 years, but last held in 2001.
Adding to this intense rivalry is the strength in depth of competition, with just 16 points currently separating the top four. And whilst Spirit of Norway and Qatar 96 have set the pace, taking the wins in Plymouth and Trondheim, both the Victory boats, Negotiator and Jotun have shared podium honours and are all equally capable of mixing it up at the sharp end, with the battle for podium and premium points oversubscribed.
Ten boats will line up in Doha for the18 lap, 94.02 nautical mile Qatar Grand Prix; both Roscioli Hotels and Qatar 95 have undergone extensive repairs during the summer break to damage sustained from crashes in Trondheim. Tomaso Polli returns to partner Nicola Giorgi in the lighter and modified Cougar, whilst Lino di Biase and Abdullah Al Sulaiti will test Qatar 95 for the first time in Doha with the Mercury HP1075 SCi engine package completing her makeover.GFN Gibellato’s Giampaolo Montavoci and Domenico Cirilli have confirmed a two-boat entry for Veneta Marina, with Italians Mario Petroni and Giuseppe (Pino) Chillocci making their Class debuts in Ceramiche Flaminia, the ex Victory/Damas hull with both outfits running Lamborghini-Scam V12s.
But the intrigue in the first race on Monday, 7 November will focus on Spirit of Norway – three times race winners in Doha – and whether or not Eker and Curtis will be able to overcome the extra long lap penalty they face and still get amongst the points, let alone compete for race honours. On the other hand Qatar 96, who leads the title race by just four points, will be looking to seize this opportunity to increase their championship lead with Spirit’s rivals in the chasing pack, headed by Victory 77 and Negotiator also looking to take advantage and reduce the points’ deficit. But all challengers will remember the opening race of the season in Plymouth, when Eker and Curtis overturned a 26 second margin after spinning out to race through the pack to win!
And whilst reliability, the start and the long lap will all be a major factor in the eventual outcome, so too will the course itself. While the waters of Doha Bay are sheltered and generally calm, in early November they can be exceedingly tricky and if, as in the past, a strong north-easterly wind blows conditions could be extremely hazardous.