July 11, 2012

Class 1 - Gabon Grand Prix Preview

Championship leader’s Arif Al Zafeen and Mohammed Al Marri will be looking to continue their winning ways as the UIM Class 1 World Powerboat Championship opens a new and exciting chapter in its 49-year history when the fleet lines up in Libreville 12-14 July for the first Grand Prix to be held in the Republic of Gabon, which will be attended by the country’s President, Ali Bongo Ondimba.
Victory’s multi World Championship winning pairing will also be aiming to capitalise on the absence of arch-rivals Spirit of Qatar, but know they will face a fierce onslaught from a handful of outfits as the focus of attention switches onto Team Abu Dhabi to see if they can step up to topple them, or indeed if any of the V8 runners, Spirit of Gabon [Poliform], Fendi Racing, Zabo Racing or either of the Welmax boats can challenge to try to break the V12 dominance.
Victory and Spirit of Qatar 96 shared the spoils in the season-opener in Doha, Qatar, taking a win a piece and share top spot in the title race on 32 points, but the Victory duo edged the trophy haul, courtesy of their win in official qualifying in the Edox Pole Position.
Al Zafeen, the four-time and defending Champion, is enjoying his enforced pairing with two-time Champion Al Marri and proving to be a formidable partnership, taking three race wins from four starts and qualifying twice in top spot in two outings. And had it not been for a bizarre number of penalty laps incurred whilst taking the ‘penalty lap’ in race 1 in Doha – dropping them to third – the Dubai duo would hold a perfect record together.
But now all eyes will now be on Team Abu Dhabi’s exciting pairing of Rashed Al Tayer and Majed Al Mansoori who may well be the duo to unsettle their UAE cousins, and who sit just two points behind them in third place in the title race.
The Dubai and Abu Dhabi residents started their 2012 campaign strongly and ran both Victory and Qatar 96 close in Doha finishing second in both races. They have now finished on the podium three times from six starts since joining forces in Norway in 2011 and a repeat showing in Libreville will leapfrog them above their Middle East rivals in the overall Championship standings.
With V12 power-plants locking out the top four places, Fendi Racing fly the flag as the highest placed V8 runner after picking up seven points in race 2, despite an excursion into a sandbank in practice which excluded them from race 1, albeit in Qatar it was their Italian rivals Poliform who looked,  momentarily, the most likely to achieve race success.
Fendi Racing’s challenge for honours has taken another twist this year, with the team lining-up in Libreville in a new boat - the multi-championship winning hull, Fazza 3, bought from Dubai’s Victory Team.
The move into the Michael Peters-designed, Victory-built hull, is a third change in direction by the Italian outfit; team owner-driver Luca Formilli Fendi and throttleman Giovanni Carpitella starting their campaign in 2011 in a leased Victory hull, finishing third in race 1 in Abu Dhabi, then opting to run an Outerlimits hull-engine package in Norway, but immediately switching to SCAM power-plants for the remainder of the year.
In Doha this year they dropped in Sterling V8s and have confirmed an upgraded set will now power their new purchase. For Fendi Racing’s crew chief and team manager, Marco Bonomo, it is an emotional reunion with a boat he says he knows every single scratch, screw and bubble of and who rigged the team’s new acquisition from scratch when she left the mould in the winter of 2006.
DAC Racing’s Guido Cappellini will resume his partnership with the experienced Giampaolo Montavoci who will mark his return to racing after sitting out the 2012-opener with a 98th Grand Prix start in Libreville in the V8 Mercury-powered Spirit of Gabon.
Cappellini and Montavoci have lined up 13 times together since teaming-up in Class 1 for the first time in 2010, taking their first podium in their debut Grand Prix, finishing third in race 2 in Brazil and repeating the feat at the end of the year in Dubai.  In 2011 they grabbed their first win on Cappellini’s home waters in the Italian Grand Prix in Cernobbio on Lake Como.
In Qatar, Cappellini, racing alongside the rookie Gabbiani, was impressive and gave the now joint title leaders much to ponder, winning the drag race to the first turn with an impressive turn of pace and led race 2 for four laps before a technical problem ended his charge and race challenge.
The team has since carried out further modifications to the boat, including extending the length by several centimetres, and before leaving for Gabon tested off the coast of Monte Carlo in conditions similar to those they hope for in Libreville.
Zabo Racing is another outfit hoping for a less torrid time in round two, as the Turkish-Norwegian duo of Ugur Isik and Christian Zaborowski look to realise the potential of their Victory-hull, Mercury V8 package.
A catalogue of technical problems in Qatar – torque sensor related and seemingly beyond their control – frustrated the team and prevented them from posting points.
After Qatar they shipped the hull to Turkey for an overhaul, a re-spray and to drop in the latest specification Mercury engines. Team boss Jan Zaborowski is optimistic that the considerable weight saving that they gain from the new engine package will convert to an overall improvement in pace and performance.
The second of the Norwegian outfits, Welmax Offshore Racing, is also looking to kick-start their season and will be looking to avoid a repeat of their self-inflicted zero points tally in Doha, after Paul Gaiser and Bjorge Jacobsen tipped over the Maritimo hull in practice, ruling them out for all but a short cameo role in race 2.
The team will run a second boat in Gabon with team principal and throttleman Jorn Tandberg returning to racing and teaming-up with Class 1 debutant William Nocker in the European and Edox Pole Position Championship winning MTI hull.
D’Alessio Racing has confirmed an all-Italian line up with Luca Nicolini pairing with Class 1 rookie Gian Maria Gabbiani.
Nicolini is now fully recovered from a knee injury he suffered in a motorbike trials accident that forced him to sit out the season-opener in Qatar and will take the throttles of the Victory built, SCAM V12 powered FA.RO ACCIAI to make his 17th career Grand Prix start – his third for Team D’Alessio Racing.
Gian Maria Gabbiani takes the wheel for just his second Grand Prix outing, following an impressive first start in Qatar alongside Guido Cappellini in March.
The Team entered the Championship last year at the Italian Grand Prix in Cernobbio, with Nicolini grabbing an impressive set of fourth place finishes - their best results in their six starts - and will be hoping for a less eventful time in Gabon than they endured in Qatar when FA.RO ACCIAI was engulfed in flames during practice.
Teams can expect rough conditions in Gabon with the 5.07Nm circuit, which runs in front of the Presidential Palace, set out in an open bay and subject to variable and unpredictable weather conditions.
First Practice takes place on Thursday, 12 July from 11.30-13.00hrs (local) and is followed by official qualifying in the Edox Pole Position at 14.30hrs with Race 1 of the Gabon Grand Prix at 15.30hrs on Friday and Race 2 at 15.30hrs on Saturday.
UIM CLASS 1 WORLD POWERBOAT CHAMPIONSHIP - after round 1
1= 3 Victory - 32pts
1= 96 Spirit of Qatar - 32pts
3. 5 Team Abu Dhabi - 30pts
4. 95 Spirit of Qatar - 9pts
5. 10 Fendi Racing - 7pts
6= 91 Relekta - 0pts
6= 74 Poliform - 0pts
6= 23 FA.RO. ACCIAI - 0pts
6= Welmax - 0pts
EDOX POLE POSITION CHAMPIONSHIP - after round 1
1. 3 Victory - 20pts
2. 96 Spirit of Qatar - 15pts
3. 95 Spirit of Qatar - 12pts
4. 5 Team Abu Dhabi - 9pts
5. 90 Welmax - 7pts
6. 74 Poliform - 5pts
7. 91 Relekta - 4pts
8. 23 FA.RO. ACCIAI - 3pts
9. 10 Fendi Racing - 0pts