Class 1 speedmeisters seek hat-trick
Victory 77’s Arif Saif Al Zafeen and Jean-Marc Sanchez will be looking to continue their imperious start to the season and bolster their Word and European title aspirations by extending their lead in the world championship. A third straight win in the forthcoming Scandinavian Grand Prix in Oslo would make them the first team to win three consecutive races at the start of the season.
The opening two rounds have been dominated by the Middle East Teams, completing a clean sweep of the podium in Athens and Arendal. Victory 77 leads the championship by 11 points from team-mates Ahmed Al Suwaidi and Nadir Bin Hendi. They are equal in second place with Sheikh Hassan and Matteo Nicolini aboard Qatar 96, with Abdullah Al-Sulaiti and Luca Nicolini in Qatar 95, the strongest of the teams running V8s. However as yet they are unable to match the performance of the four outfits ahead of them, using V12s, lying in fifth spot.
“We are extremely happy all went well in Arendal to add to our success in Athens, but we need to keep up the pressure for the title by working even harder and adding some more speed to the boats,” said Victory team manager, Gianfranco Venturelli, with 77’s throttleman, Jean-Marc Sanchez, clear about what they need to do in Oslo.
“This has been a dream start to the season for us and we need to ensure that this dream continues,” he said. “Our aim is straight and clear – score points and ensure overall reliability of the boat – points win championships but reliability gets you there.”
Despite lying in second place and relishing a return to racing in Oslo, the scene of his and Nicolini’s maiden Grand Prix win in 2004, Sheikh Hassan insists that the team needs to improve the performance.
“Second place at the last race in Arendal was not good enough,” he said. “We really had hoped for a better performance. I believe we had a great chance to win the race, but we were late getting the boat up to speed at the start due to bad communication with the pace boat. I have great memories of that first Class 1 win in Oslo in 2004 and those memories will never go away. But we need to win in Oslo this time to close the gap on Victory 77 and put pressure on them for the European Championship decider in Romania in September.”
Where performance and reliability have proved the winning formula for the Victory Team and Qatar 96, they have proved the Achilles heel of their most likely challengers, Spirit of Norway, which has seen podium finishes and points disappear with enforced pit-stops, whilst Jotun and Negotiator have failed to go the distance in the opening rounds.
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If a European challenge is going to be mounted – it must start in Oslo. Gjelsten and Curtis have a good record on the team’s ‘home’ waters – Spirit of Norway winning in 1999, 2002 and 2003 – but first they have to resolve the issues that have stalled their world title defence and left them 26 points off the pace, in fourth place.
“To come back from where we are will be tough but by no means impossible,” said Curtis. “We are confident that we have solved the problems we’ve had and now must get on with it and do what we do best. We know we have the performance. We are much focused, and if we have a trouble free run we can win in Oslo.”
For Jotun and Negotiator the mountain to climb is already massive, currently propping up the wrong end of the points table, and both outfits need to kick-start their season in Oslo.
“This has been the worst possible start for us and of course we are all disappointed,” said Negotiator’s throttleman and team owner, Chris Parsonage.
“Developing a new engine package is always going to have its problems but what we need to do is resolve them and find some reliability. When the boat runs, she goes very well, but what Bard and I need is more time on the water.”
Following their top six finish in Athens, the euphoria ran out in Arendal for SeveneleveN’s Nicola Giorgi and Tomaso Polli, and they will be hoping that the engine problems that cut short their race last time out have been solved. For the second race in a row, Giampaolo Montavoci and Domenico Cirilli will break their established partnership to partner Class 1 newcomers Pennesi and Oslen, with Montavoci and Marco Pennesi looking to try to repeat their impressive fourth place in Arendal in Foresti & Suardi, whilst Cirilli and Kurt Olsen will be looking to go the distance and claim points in VM Foresti & Suardi.
Also looking to build on their strong showing in Arendal, finishing in fifth after a titanic struggle with Foresti & Suardi, are Tom Barry-Cotter and Pal Nilsen in the Mercury powered Spirit of Norway 20. Class 1’s youngest recruits have developed a good rapport and shown that they are prepared to mix it with their more experienced adversaries.
“We put up a good showing in Arendal but we were disappointed that Foresti got past us,” said Tom. “In Oslo I will have the steering system that I use in Australia and I think that will make a big difference.”
This year will be the eighth time teams line up on Oslo Fjord, but the first time since the first race in 1997 that they will run the course – 98.02Nm over 21-laps – in an anti-clockwise direction, putting even greater emphasis on the communications between driver and throttleman.
“The Oslo course is fast and open, certainly not as tight as Arendal,” commented Sheikh Hassan. “But running a left-hand course makes it more challenging -what may be okay for the throttleman may not be okay for the driver!”
WPPA CLASS 1 WORLD POWERBOAT CHAMPIONSHIP – after round two of eight
1. Victory 77 – A Al Zafeen (UAE)/JM Sanchez (FR) – 42pts
2=. Victory 7 – A Al Suwaidi (UAE)/N B Hendi (UAE) – 31pts
2=. Qatar 96 – H Al Thani (QAT)/M Nicolini (ITA) – 31pts
4. Spirit of Norway 10 – B Gjelsten (NOR)/S Curtis (GB) – 16pts
5. Qatar 95 – A Al Sulaiti (QAT)/L Nicolini (ITA) – 13pts
6. Foresti & Suardi 8 – M Pennesi (ITA)/ G Montavoci (ITA) – 9pts
7=. Spirit of Norway 20 – T Barry-Cotter (AUS)/P Nilsen (NOR) – 7pts
7=. SeveneleveN 18 – T Polli (ITA)/N Giorgi (ITA) – 7pt
9. Negotiator 50 – B Eker (NOR)/C Parsonage (GB) – 4pts
Jotun 90 – C Zaborowski (NOR)/J Tandberg (NOR) – 0pts
VM Foresti & Suardi 2 – D Cirilli/K Olsen (NOR) – 0pts
(championship points include bonus points allocated to teams running engines for two consecutive races – one point, per engine, per race)
EDOX POLE POSITION CHAMPIONSHIP – after round one of seven
1. Spirit of Norway 10 – B Gjelsten (NOR)/S Curtis (GB) – 20pts
2. Victory 77 – A Al Zafeen (UAE)/JM Sanchez (FR) – 15pts
3. Victory 7 – A Al Suwaidi (UAE)/N B Hendi (UAE) – 12pts
4. Qatar 96 – H Al Thani (QAT)/M Nicolini (ITA) – 9pts
5. Jotun 90 – C Zaborowski (NOR)/J Tandberg (NOR) – 7pts
6. Qatar 95 – A Al Sulaiti (QAT)/L Nicolini (ITA) – 5pts
7. Spirit of Norway 20 – T Barry-Cotter (AUS)/P Nilsen (NOR) – 4pts
8. Foresti & Suardi 8 – M Pennesi (ITA)/ G Montavoci (ITA) – 3pts
9. VM Foresti & Suardi 2 – D Cirilli/K Olsen (NOR) – 2pts
10. SeveneleveN 18 – T Polli (ITA)/N Giorgi (ITA) – 1pts
Negotiator 50 – B Eker (NOR)/C Parsonage (GB)