The new season kicks off this month. Nine boats will line up in Doha for the Pearl Qatar Grand Prix, 14-17 March, the opening round of the 2012 UIM Class 1 World Powerboat Championship, marking the sport’s return to Doha for the first time since 2009 with the Qatar Marine Sports Federation (QMSF), the event organiser, moving the location from the relative shelter of Doha Bay to the more open water and hoped-for rougher conditions to be found off the Pearl of Qatar.
2012 sees the Championship start its 49th season since being recognised and sanctioned by the Union Internationale Motonautique (UIM), the world governing body for powerboating, and marks the 21st anniversary of the ‘modern era’ that saw the sport return to a multiple-venue World Championship in 1992. It is hard to predict who will win in Qatar, or titles in 2012, but based on the fact that Dubai’s Victory Team’s run of consecutive world crowns is running at five, and the impressive performances by Arif Al Zafeen and Mohammed Al Marri in the final two races of 2011 in Dubai to clinch the team’s eleventh World title, it will take a herculean effort by their challengers to break their vice-like grip on the Sam Griffith Trophy.
With four-time World Champion, Nadir Bin Hendi ‘provisionally suspended’ by the UIM, Arif Al Zafeen will again partner Mohammed Al Marri – the duo boasting six World titles between them – and will start as favourites and the team to beat as Al Zafeen goes for his third straight win in Doha. If how to beat Victory is at the top of the teams’ ‘most wanted’ list, the on-going situation facing officials is the cry by some teams for greater parity between the screeching V12s and the thunderous V8s. In 2011 the mighty V12 was all-conquering, a quartet of outfits running V12s leading home a trio of those opting for the V8s in the title race, with the V8 runners managing just three podium appearances – one of those upgraded to a win courtesy of a Victory DQ.
To ease the situation, officials have upped the rpm for the Mercury 850Sci V8 supercharged engines to 6350rpm from 6100rpm with modifications to the torque/power curve. Of the eight challengers who will line up against Victory, the most fancied challengers could be the two-boat assault of the silver-and-crimson-clad Spirit of Qatar Team. Their much-anticipated return to racing last year was a success, with Sheikh Hassan and Steve Curtis winning their first race together in Class 1 since teaming up in 2008 and taking the European title, whilst teammates Ali Al Neama and Matteo Nicolini took a win in Italy and the Edox Pole Position Championship – the team finishing second and third overall in the title race.
The team and its current line-up has had mixed success in Doha since Qatar hosted its first Class 1 Grand Prix in 2002; Sheikh Hassan and Nicolini have enjoyed multiple podium finishes but a win has eluded both – the team’s only win on home waters was in 2006 courtesy of Abdullah Al Sulaiti and Lino di Biase – whilst Curtis, as a rival with Spirit of Norway, has won five times in Qatar. DAC Racing field a new line up in the V8 Mercury-powered Poliform with Guido Cappellini – now recovered from a broken ankle sustained in a road accident in Italy last month – joined by Class 1 debutant, Italian Gian Maria Gabbiani, moving over from four-wheel competition and up from endurance racing in the Italian powerboat championship. Cappellini’s credentials as a powerboat racer speak for themselves; he has won the F1H2O World title ten times, and since switching into Class 1 in 2010 has made the podium several times, and on his home waters of Lake Como at the Italian Grand Prix last year he grabbed his first win.
Norway rolls out two teams; a last gasp reshuffle at Welmax Offshore Racing has reversed plans laid out in 2011 to run a two-boat line-up, which would have seen newcomer William Nocker teaming-up with 2008 European Champion Jorn Tandberg. Instead, the team has announced they will run one outfit in Qatar with Norwegian throttleman Bjorge Jackobsen joined in the cockpit of the Mercury V8-powered Maritimo-designed Welmax, by Brazilian Paul Gaiser – the duo mustering 23 starts collectively, with Gaiser taking his only podium in Abu Dhabi in 2010. Fellow Norwegian outfit, Zabo Racing, will be hoping to start their season where they left off in 2011, with Ugur Isik and race and pole position winner Christian Zaborowski producing a strong showing to put Relekta on the podium in Dubai.
Fendi Racing will be looking to put behind them a frustrating 2011; a promising start with a podium was soon forgotten as their new Outerlimits hull-V8 engine package failed to deliver and they fared little better with the switch to SCAM V12s, and have confirmed a third switch of engines, opting to run Sterling V8s in 2012. Team owner-driver Luca Formilli Fendi will again partner the experienced stick-man Giovanni Carpitella, the pair grabbing two podiums from their ten starts together since forming up in 2010 – Carpitella taking his two Grand Prix wins in Uddevalla, Sweden.
Team Abu Dhabi has confirmed driver Rashed Al Tayer and throttleman Majed Al Mansoori; the Emirati duo paired twice last year, teaming-up for the first time in the BMW Norwegian Grand Prix in Arendal and again at the end of the year in Dubai, grabbing their first podium together in race 2, with Team Abu Dhabi finishing fourth overall in the title race. Italian outfit Team D’Alessio-SCAM will be starting their first full season in Class 1 after joining the Championship midway through last year at the Italian Grand Prix. But with throttleman Luca Nicolini side-lined through injury, there is an eleventh hour call up for Norway’s Pal Virik Nilsen, with former F1H2O star Massimo Roggiero taking the wheel to make his Class 1 debut.
Teams take to the water for the first of three official practice sessions on Wednesday, 14 March followed by official qualifying in the Edox Pole Position at 14:30hrs. Race 1 of the Pearl Qatar Grand Prix starts at 15:00hrs on Thursday with race 2 at 15:00hrs on Saturday, 17 March.