With the advantage of being on home soil, we left our departure for Abu Dhabi until the last minute to maximize our use of the workshop facility. An early morning departure on the 12th saw us arrive at the Abu Dhabi International Marine Sports Club with plenty of time to set up in the dry pit before catching up with friends in other teams and eyeing up the other boats in the reinvigorated field with the welcome return of the Spirit of Qatar Team.
The Tuesday afternoon was an open test session on a limited section of the waters of the Abu Dhabi corniche for any team that wished to make use of this final opportunity to check their boats before the event began in earnest the next day. Along with several of the other teams, Victory Team took the opportunity to do final back to back tests with the two boats we had available to us, on the flat waters of the corniche. This gave us the data we needed to confirm that the shorter of the two appeared the better option by a small fraction and would therefore be the 2011 race boat, with the other kept as our spare boat.
With the administrative details cleared in the morning, there was a keen sense of anticipation as the minutes ticked away to the start of the first official two hour practice on the Wednesday afternoon. With a strong gusty wind blowing across the course, a little care would be needed by the crews to keep the boats driving at optimum trim around the 4.93 nautical mile course. As expected Victory 3 looked strong from the start as the current World Champions Arif Al Zafeen and Nadir bin Hendi needed little time to come to the grips with the conditions after carrying out several winter tests in Dubai with the Class 1 boats and racing twice in the X-cat class here in Abu Dhabi. They were followed in the timings by the second home team of Team Abu Dhabi’s Rashid al Tayer temporarily paired in the cockpit with his X-cat throttleman Majid Al Mansouri, due to John Tomlinson being delayed by a missed flight. An excellent result considering this was their first competitive outing together in a Class 1 boat.
The 3rd place boat was another surprising contender, that of Zabo Racing’s Relekta 91 piloted by the new crew pairing of Christian Zaborowski with driver Ugur Isik returning to Class 1after more than 10 years absence.
The returning Spirit of Qatar boats 96 and 95 were 4th and 6th respectively, opting to build up their pace in a controlled fashion with their newly rerigged boats.
The short 2nd practice on Thursday morning gave the teams just enough time to check out any changes made following Wednesdays session before it was straight into the first Edox Pole Position competition. Victory 3 set the early benchmark with a time of 3mins 00.56secs. But the closure of the course to replace missing marks left Arif and Nadir out of position when the course re-opened with just 7 minutes left on the clock. This left the door open for Abu Dhabi 5 to post a time of 3mins 00.04 secs to take the pole position for their home Grand Prix. Spirit of Qatar 95 jumped to 3rd with a well timed final run of 3mins 01.65secs.
With the start of the race being outside the breakwater, consisting of a long run to the first turn buoy to then bring the boats inside and on to the tight circuit in front of the corniche, it was considered essential to get a good start, as overtaking once the boats came inside would be difficult.
And so with wind and sea conditions forecast to be light the final set up decisions were made and the boats lined up for the all important green flag, to get the first race of the 2011 UIM Class 1 World Powerboat Championship underway.
The drag race down to the first right hand turn to bring the boats in through the channel past Lulu was as tense and hotly contested as ever with Victory 3 gaining the advantage over Team Abu Dhabi 5 and Spirit of Qatar 95. Once onto the race circuit, Nadir and Arif set about putting distance between themselves and the chasing pack where Sheikh Hassan and Steve Curtis had replaced their team mates in third place and then promptly started their long lap. Just as it appeared that the race was going to settle into a familiar pattern, on lap 4, Christian Zaborowski and Ugur Isik in Relekta 91 spun out and flipped the boat going into turn C, bringing out a red flag and the pace boat.
Christian and Ugur made a quick and safe exit through the escape hatch on their boat and once the rescue team had confirmed both crew were uninjured the support boats commenced clearing the course whilst the pace boat led the remainder of the fleet around the course at a safe speed. With each successive lap counting towards the race total and with both Victory and team Abu Dhabi still to do their long laps, the presence of Qatar 96 just meters behind them having already completed their long lap was starting to raise the blood pressure of the team members shore side as any tactical options slowly disappeared with each subsequent rounding of the course.
Eventually the course was deemed safe and the race restarted, with no spare laps left to open a gap before commencing the long lap Victory 3 had to be perfect from the moment they got the green flag. Arriving at the end of the course they set out towards the long lap buoys at maximum speed, the gap to Qatar 96 seemingly less than the acknowledged minimum required to complete the long lap and stay ahead of the chasing boat. As they entered the turn the shore crew held their breath, any slight mistake or misjudgment in the setting of throttles, trim or steering could result in the boat settling down in the water, increasing drag and so loosing speed. Nadir and Arif were totally in control of the boat, it carved around the turn as if on rails, coming out of the turn still on plane and starting the drag down to rejoin the course as Sheikh Hassan and Steve Curtis were coming around turn C. This was the moment of truth, had Victory 3 done enough or could Qatar create an upset and commences their quest for a first UIM Class 1 world title in style. As the boats flew towards turn D the result seemed to hang in the balance for far longer than the few seconds it took to cover the distance, but it was Victory 3 that emerged from the turn in clear water, Spirit of Qatar 96 the one that had to give ground this time.
Behind this clash it was Rashid Al Tayer and John Tomlinson in Team Abu Dhabi 5 who suffered the most from the prolonged period behind the pace boat, loosing position to both Spirit of Qatar 96 and Fendi Racing 10 when they carried out their long lap. So a good start for Victory Team and as the boats arrived back in the dry pit it was back to the crews to check out their charges, refuel and prepare for another day of nail biting tension.
Friday dawned bright but breezy for most of the crews as they made their way to the Abu Dhabi International Marine Sports Club, but for the crew of Relekta 91 it was just end of a hard sleepless night as they completed the task of drying out and repairing their boat after the previous day’s mishap. An almost superhuman effort had turned what had appeared a forlorn hope into an example of what can be achieved with the right motivation and shear hard work.
The morning practice session was fairly quiet for most crews as they just carried out short runs to prove the boats before prior to the afternoon race.
With the wind having blown consistently overnight and maintained its strength through the morning, the sea conditions outside were markedly different from the previous day with a 2 to 3 metre swell promising a punishing start run for the boats. Another consequence of the strong wind and sea state meant a dilemma for the drivers and crew chiefs, did they run with the same set up as the previous day or did the weather conditions warrant a change in propeller or gear ratio? There were lots of options to discuss as the crews finished preparations and the race organizers monitored the conditions in the countdown to the start of Race 2.
Just after 3pm the boats left the jetty in the order that they had finished the previous day’s race, ahead of them was a slow bumpy run out to the start line, which had been moved closer to the first turn to compensate for the marginal conditions, but which for the safety boats still left a long open stretch of water to cover. With boats rearing up on the swells and disappearing down into the troughs, the start was not the usual close quarter duel of jockeying to be as close to the start line as possible moving at the maximum allowable speed. But a case of keeping a safe distance between boats that had trouble seeing each other in the swell whilst trying to maintain visual contact with the start boat and the all important green flag. But eventually the race officials deemed the line straight enough, the green flag was raised and 10 pairs of 850 Horse power engines pushed the hulls from a state of uncomfortable wallowing beasts to wave hopping missiles as the critical first leg of the race got underway.
"Qatar really pushed at the start to get ahead and I knew we were going to have to work hard," said Nadir Bin Hendi "It was very rough on the outside, maybe 2-3metres, so we took it easy. We saw 96 next to us who were flying and decided to take it easy and do the hard work and attack on the inside."
And so it was as the rescue crews nervously counted the boats around the first turn and into the sheltered inshore waters that Sheikh Hassan and Steve Curtis led ahead of Victory 3 with Fendi racing maintaining 3rd from the start.
With the Qatar boat controlling the race from the front over the next few laps Victory Team opted for their 1st long lap on lap 4 and pushed hard so that when Spirit of Qatar took theirs a lap later it was the blue boat leading once again at the sprint from turn C to D on lap 5. From there Nadir and Arif stamped their authority on the race pulling out a 43 second lead by the time they reached the chequered flag. But there was some compensation for the Qatar team as Ali Al Neama and Matteo Nicolini in the second Qatar boat, battled through the field to complete the places on the podium. An honorable mention must also go to all the crew of Zaborowski racing as their boat whilst never in contention for a podium did finish this time battled through to finish the race.
And so an excellent start to the season for Victory Team and as the men and materials head to Europe we all look forward to Arendal where we will all meet again to renew friendships and rivalries.