C1 Title rivals slug it out in thrilling Qatar Grand Prix practice session
2007 WPPA CLASS 1 WORLD POWERBOAT CHAMPIONSHIP
Class One Doha 2007, The Qatar Grand Prix, November 15th-17th, 2007, round 6 of 8
For immediate release
Thursday, November 15th, 2007
TITLE HEAVYWEIGHTS SLUG IT OUT IN FIRST
OFFICIAL PRACTICE FOR QATAR GRAND PRIX
Sheikh Hassan edged into third in thrilling practice session
Championship leaders Victory 77 take fastest time of the day
DOHA (Qatar): Competitors took to the water for the first time on Thursday afternoon for the first free practice session in preparation for Saturday’s Qatar Grand Prix, round six of this year’s WPPA Class One World Powerboat Championship.
It developed into a thrilling two-hour session with His Excellency Sheikh Hassan bin Jabor Al-Thani and team mate Matteo Nicolini embroiled in a nip and tuck competition with world title rivals Arif Saif Al-Zafeen and Jean-Marc Sanchez in Victory 77 and defending champions Bjorn Rune Gjelsten and Steve Curtis in Spirit of Norway.
The three teams dealt body blows to each other’s confidence throughout the session, with all three taking turns to hold the fastest time of the day. Eventually Victory 77 edged the session with a fastest lap of 2m 41.56s, a mere 0.25 seconds in front of Spirit of Norway and 1.09s seconds ahead of the local favourites in Qatar 96. Qatar 95’s Abdullah Al-Sulaiti and Luca Nicolini were fifth quickest in a time of 2m 49.95s.
Tom-Barry Cotter and Pal Virik Nilsen were the first crew on to the water in increasingly windy conditions and laid down the gauntlet with a time of 2m 58.28s, but this was soon beaten by Victory 7 and Victory 77. Both Qatar 95 and Negotiator recorded opening salvos of 3m 05.86 and 2m 56.10s, but it was Sheikh Hassan who rocked the establishment with a superb opening time of 2m 45.59s.
In the opening 45 minutes of the practice session it looked as though this time could not be beaten, but Gjelsten and Curtis went close in 2m 47.14s and edged inside the Qatar 96 time with an excellent 2m 44.67s. Negotiator, the two Victory boats and Qatar 95 could not break the 2m 50s barrier.
But Victory 7 recorded a 2m 48.78 after 55 minutes and it opened the floodgates for their Victory 77 team mates to post a third fastest lap of 2m 46.66s on the hour. SevenEleveN ran for three laps, but struggled to keep up with the leading pack and 3m 25.32s was the best time of the three.
With 45 minutes to go, Sheikh Hassan and Matteo Nicolini redressed the balance, clung to a tight line with the stunning backdrop of the West Bay skyline and delivered a clinical time of 2m 43.21s to retake the psychological advantage of the fastest time.
Their Qatar 95 team mates improved with a three-lap stint and a best time of 2m 49.95s to slip into fifth, but Spirit of Norway returned to action with 25 minutes of the session remaining. The Anglo-Norwegian crew maintained a similar tight line to their arch rivals and managed to slip inside Qatar 96’s time with a 2m 42.21s to set up the prospect of a thrilling Pole competition on Saturday.
But Victory 77 had other ideas and, with 20 minutes to go, they set the fastest time of the day with a lap of 2m 41.56s. Their Victory 7 colleagues ran for two laps, but couldn’t match 77’s time and it was left to Sheikh Hassan to challenge in the dying minutes of the session. Victory 77 posted another lap of 2m 42.42s, but all eyes were on the stop watch as 96 crossed the line in 2m 42.65s, an improvement on the earlier time but just shy of 77 and Spirit of Norway. Qatar 95 was given permission to run for an extended lap, but failed to beat the earlier time.
“Practice is useful for us. On Thursday we planned to carry out three propeller tests, nothing out of the ordinary,” said Sheikh Hassan. “You need to push quite hard when you test propellers, but I never look at the practice times of other teams, because there is no minimum weight limit in free practice and you cannot be disqualified for being too light. For that reason it is pointless to compare times. It’s just a good opportunity to set up the boat for our strategy. The most important thing is to practice on specific sectors of the circuit.
“I don’t think the Lamborghini engines will have too much of an advantage on the faster course. Last year the V8s were very competitive in Doha. Maybe, with the new regulations, there might be a slight advantage but the V8s will need to be more aggressive in the turns. There is a little breeze, but these are still very fast race conditions. Abdullah’s boat and ours will run totally independently. There will be no co-operation for tactical reasons.”
Al-Sulaiti is relishing the prospect of a thrilling weekend’s competition in Doha Bay. “It’s a very fast course this year and I think this gives an advantage to the Lamborghini engines with their higher top speed,” said Al-Sulaiti. “I am optimistic that we can have a good weekend though, maybe even repeat the win last year. We use the practice session to experiment with propellers and gears, because this year’s course is much different to 2006. The turn by the Corniche is similar, but the long straight takes you further out into open waters and we might suffer from deteriorating weather conditions and rougher seas. When we come back, the chicane will be tricky.
“I was running well in Egypt before the problems and need a good result here to give me a chance in the Middle East Championship. I managed to get ahead of Victory 77 there and was helping 96’s cause. This will be a different race altogether. Victory 77 are under pressure and they will be under even more pressure if they cannot extend their lead here. Our goal is to see 96 reduce the gap on 77 and then watch 77 cope with the added pressure of going to race in Dubai. It’s going to be a great weekend.”
Gianfranco Venturelli is the team manager of the Dubai-based Victory Team and is relishing the prospect of this weekend’s Qatar Grand Prix. “In the past when we were chasing the title we had nothing to lose,” said Venturelli. “So it was a case of trying anything and everything we could and we did. Now the situation is different. We are in front. We have to be aggressive, but must pay attention to all things because now we can lose everything. If Spirit of Norway doesn’t make a mistake, like they did in Romania, I think they could win, but Qatar 96 is also very fast.”
The Fainplast 2 crew of Kolbjorn Selmer and Mario Esperto did not start the weekend’s meeting, after the boat was used by Marco Pennesi and Giampaolo Montavoci, following the Italian crew’s accident in Egypt recently. Thet did not record a practice time either on Thursday.
Tomorrow (Friday) marks the crucial Edox Pole Position competition to determine the starting order for Saturday’s all-important race. Official practice will be permitted on the Doha Bay course between 09.30hrs and 11.00hrs and the Edox Pole Position will commence at the slightly earlier time of 14.30hrs.
Thursday free practice times – best lap per crew (unofficial)
1. Victory 77 – Arif Saif Al Zafeen(UAE)/Jean-Marc Sanchez (F) 2m 41.56s
2. Spirit of Norway 10 – Bjorn Gjelsten (N)/Steve Curtis (GB) 2m 42.21s
3. Qatar 96 – Hassan Al Thani (QA)/Matteo Nicolini (I) 2m 42.65s
4. Victory 7 – Talib Al Sayed (UAE)/Nadir Bin Hendi (UAE) 2m 45.75s
5. Qatar 95 – Abdullah Al Sulaiti (QA)/Luca Nicolini (I) 2m 49.95s
6. Negotiator 50 – Bard Eker (N)/Chris Parsonage (GB) 2m 50.12s
7. Jotun 90 – Christian Zaborowski (N)/Jorn Tandberg (N) 2m 55.00s
8. Spirit of Norway 20 – Tom Barry-Cotter (AUS)/Pal Virik Nilsen (N) 2m 58.28s
9. SeveneleveN 18 – Tomaso Polli (I)/Nicola Giorgi (I) 3m 25.32s
Foresti & Suardi 8 – Marco Pennesi (I)/Giampaolo Montavoci (I) DNS
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