Posted on April 15, 2011

His Excellency Sheikh Hassan bin Jabor al-Thani and British throttleman Steve Curtis of the Spirit of Qatar Team finished a fine second overall on their return to the UIM Class 1 World Powerboat Championship in the opening race of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix yesterday.

In a race that was red flagged following an accident involving Relakta on lap four, the Spirit of Qatar 96 crew climbed from seventh position to shadow eventual winners, Arif Saif Al-Zafeen and Nadir Bin Hendi of Victory 3, to the finish. Qatar’s Ali al-Neama and Italian Matteo Nicolini finished fifth overall in Spirit of Qatar 95.
“I was feeling a little despondent this morning after the Pole Position,” said Sheikh Hassan, president of the Qatar Marine Sports Federation (QMSF). “The plan hadn’t really worked out as we wanted it. We lost time in the Pole Position and when we wanted to go out and set another lap time we had run out of time.

“We gained at the start of the race on the long straight. It was a little bumpy. Then we got the long lap strategy right. When the race was stopped we were in third and neither Victory nor Team Abu Dhabi had made a long lap, so we gained a place after the restart. We kept the pressure on then, but we know that the Victory boat has good acceleration and will be strong on tight courses like this one.
“Ali did a good job for his first race. He qualified in third but had to stop a couple of times with a transmission problem in the race and that cost him time. We expect it to be more bumpy tomorrow, but we start from second position, so we will see.”

The newly-liveried Spirit of Qatar Team boats had qualified in third and seventh positions for the first race of the season on the tight 4.93Nm course near Lulu Island. Al-Neama set a stunning last gasp time to edge into third place at the expense of Italy’s Luca Fendi.

Making a good race start was crucial for both Qatar Team boats. There was mechanical misery for Welmax before the start of a race where Victory 3 and Team Abu Dhabi gradually edged clear. When the race was red flagged following a flip by Ugur Isik and Christian Zaborowski in Relekta on lap four, Spirit of Qatar 96 and 95 held third and fourth positions, although Sheikh Hassan and Al-Neama had made one long lap on tours four and two, respectively. Miti 18 and Parsonage Racing trailed in their wake.

Victory 3 completed the fifth lap with a 2.76s advantage over Team Abu Dhabi and Sheikh Hassan maintained third position when action resumed and Miti 18 stopped with mechanical woes. Sheikh Hassan and Steve Curtis climbed to second when Team Abu Dhabi took a long lap on the seventh tour and Al-Neama held fifth position. Al-Zafeen and Bin Hendi edged into an 11.48s advantage through eight laps and extended their advantage to 16.18s after nine laps to start the defence of their world title in the best possible fashion. Spirit of Qatar 96 held on to take second place and Al-Neama and Nicolini recorded fifth overall. Because they did not take part in the championship last season and the order for the first Edox Pole Position of the new season was determined by the finishing order in last year’s championship, Sheikh Hassan and Al-Neama started their qualifying session behind their main rivals.

Al-Zafeen and Bin Hendi set the target time of 3m 00.96s on their first lap in Victory 3 and Team Abu Dhabi slotted into second with a second lap time of 3m 01.12s. Sheikh Hassan’s and Steve Curtis’s first competitive lap of the new season ended in a time of 3m 04.48s and the Spirit of Qatar 96 crew moved into fourth position.

Relekta 91 pushed Spirit of Qatar 96 down to fifth place with a first lap of 3m 03.26s. Al-Neama’s and Nicolini’s entry into Class 1 racing together began with a first lap of 3m 13.64s and the Spirit of Qatar 95 team found themselves in eighth position and needing to improve on their subsequent lap. Sheikh Hassan was quick to post a second lap time and his third tour of 3m 04.71s was not sufficient to close the gap on Relekta for third position. But al-Neama and Nicolini completed an excellent second lap of 3m 04.26s to edge in front of Spirit of Qatar 96.

Luca Fendi also hit form in the closing stages of the session and a fastest lap of 3m 02.32s on his third tour pushed the Italian into third position at the expense of the Qatar boats. After the session was red-flagged to replace two loose buoys, Al-Neama and Nicolini were not to be outdone and posted a stunning late lap of 3m 01.65s to snatch third position. Team Abu Dhabi also left the best until last and grabbed a late Pole Position with a fourth lap of 3m 00.04s.

Both Spirit of Qatar boats had been able to take to the water for the first time in an official Class 1 practice session since July 2009 on Wednesday afternoon, but Sheikh Hassan admitted that neither crew were taking any risks. “We were first out and took it pretty steady and tried out our three set-ups,” said Sheikh Hassan. “There were a few heavy waves out on the course and it was not worth pushing too hard”. Spirit of Qatar 96 completed the first practice session of the new season with the fourth fastest lap of 3m 03.20s, with Spirit of Qatar 95 slotting into sixth of the eight runners with a best tour of 3m 05.18s. The Victory Team, Team Abu Dhabi and Zabo Racing’s Relekta filled the top three positions.

Crews will be permitted a third and final official practice session on Friday morning and the finishing positions from the opening race will determine the starting order for the second Class 1 race, which starts at 15.30hrs (14.30hrs Doha time) on Friday afternoon.

source: Gulf Times