Thani Al-Qemzi created a little piece of history by becoming the first Arab driver ever to win the Grand Prix of Abu Dhabi which in turn lifted him to second in the F1H2o Championship while Shaun Torrente just did enough to hold on to the lead after finishing sixth.
The Emirati snatched the lead on the first lap and held off a fierce challenge from Frenchman Peter Morin to seal the win by 0.91 seconds at the Abu Dhabi Breakwater on Saturday afternoon.
The third Team Abu Dhabi driver, Erik Stark retired from the race and that could have put pay to his title aspirations.
An overwhelmed Al-Qemzi, shrouded by VIPs, well-wishers and media in the pits, said:
I made a good start and I went far away from everyone and I keep a little bit away – I kept my line.
My boat was strong and I felt relaxed and I pushed hard from that.
The last five laps, I see that he (Morin) stay behind me and then I go very fast.
Insha’allah, next week I do the same.
This is my country. I have always been nervous here and never had any favours and now I made it.
This is a fantastic win for the whole team. We are all so happy.
With the excitement in the pits and paddock area after the sensational home win, Morin’s gutsy second place went virtually unnoticed, while Finland’s Sami Selio (below) bounced back from a miserable season to claim third place for the Mad-Croc Baba Racing Team.
Marit Strømøy of the Emirates Racing Team finished fourth and Italian veteran Francesco Cantando was a fine fifth.
Grand Prix of Abu Dhabi
With Sutthipan Sookbuangbon still in Thailand and Victory Team’s Ahmed Al-Hameli missing the 48-lap race on medical grounds after his accident on Friday, 17 boats lined up at the start pontoon. Stark, Al-Qemzi and Torrente were in pole, third and sixth for the host team and Strømøy was sandwiched between the two front-running Team Abu Dhabi boats.
The frantic dash to the commitment buoy and the opening couple of turns would be absolutely critical to the outcome of the race with the pole sitter winning each of the five races so far this season.
Stark made a poor start and ceded the lead to Strømøy and second place to Al-Qemzi, but the Norwegian struggled through the opening turn and Al-Qemzi snatched the lead from Morin, Stark, a rampant Selio, Strømøy and Cantando at the end of lap one. Torrente held seventh place, but Erik Edin spun after starting fifth off the pontoon and fell to 15th.
Al-Qemzi extended his advantage to 5.29 seconds into lap four and continued to fend off Morin, Stark and Selio over the next few laps. All 17 starters were still running into lap nine, where Al-Qemzi held a lead of 3.30 seconds over Morin and Torrente was still catching the spray of sixth-placed Cantando.
The leaders began to catch and overtake the tail-enders but there were no changes on the leader board and Al-Qemzi headed Morin by 4.47sec into lap 13 with Stark in third and Torrente in seventh. But Team Amaravati’s Jonas Andersson pulled to a stand still with engine issues, lost his eighth place and joined team-mate Edin as the first retirements.
Heading into lap 20, Al-Qemzi led Morin by 2.67 seconds and Stark, Selio and Strømøy rounded off the top five, but Torrente could find no way to pass sixth-placed Cantando. There were no changes at halfway and Al-Qemzi remained on course to become the first Arab ever to win the Grand Prix of Abu Dhabi, although Morin had closed to within 2.23 seconds.
The 15-boat procession continued through the next few laps and an inspired Al-Qemzi continued to fend off the Morin challenge (above) and maintain his advantage. But Stark dramatically pulled off the race course on lap 30 with technical issues and Selio was promoted to third place. The Swede’s demise also lifted Torrente into sixth and boosted his title hopes, as four-time World Champion Alex Carella also spluttered to a stop to wrap up a miserable weekend for the Victory Team.
Into lap 36 and Al-Qemzi led Morin by 3.15 seconds with Selio a distant third, Strømøy a hard-charging fourth, Cantando in fifth and Torrente in sixth place. There were no changes to the running order with eight laps remaining and Al-Qemzi was able to retain his composure and make his own little piece of history, much to the delight of Team Abu Dhabi, the ADIMSC and the local crowd.
Morin confirmed second place, Selio claimed his first podium of a miserable season and Strømøy finished fourth, ahead of Cantando, Torrente, Bartek Marszalek, Philippe Chiappe, Cédric Deguisne and Filip Roms.
2018 Grand Prix of Abu Dhabi – result:
1. Thani Al-Qemzi (UAE) Team Abu Dhabi 48 laps
2. Peter Morin (FRA) CTIC F1 Shenzhen China Team @0.91sec
3. Sami Selio (FIN) Mad-Croc Baba Racing Team @31.43sec
4. Marit Strømøy (NOR) Emirates Racing Team @32.69sec
5. Francesco Cantando (ITA) Blaze F1 Team @36.29sec
6. Shaun Torrente (USA) Team Abu Dhabi @46.27sec
7. Bartek Marszalak (POL) Emirates Racing Team L1
8. Philippe Chiappe (FRA) CTIC F1 Shenzhen China Tea L1
9. Cédric Deguisne (FRA) Maverick F1 Team L3
10. Filip Roms (FIN) Mad-Croc Baba Racing Team L4
11. Duarte Benavente (PRT) F1 Atlantic Team L4
Grant Trask (AUS) F1 Atlantic Team DNF
Erik Stark (SWE) Team Abu Dhabi DNF
Simone Schuft (DEU) Blaze F1 Team DNF
Alex Carella (ITA) Victory Team DNF
Jonas Andersson (SWE) Team Amaravati DNF
Erik Edin (SWE) Team Amaravati DNF
Ahmed Al-Hameli (UAE) Victory Team DNS
Sutthipan Sookbuangbon (THI) Maverick F1 Team DNS
2018 UIM F1 H2O World Championship – standings after round 6:
1. Shaun Torrente (UAE) Team Abu Dhabi 77pts
2. Thani Al-Qemzi (UAE) Team Abu Dhabi 74pts
3. Erik Stark (UAE) Team Abu Dhabi 65pts
4. Peter Morin (FRA) CTIC F1 Shenzhen China Team 54pts
5. Philippe Chiappe (FRA) CTIC F1 Shenzhen China Team 37pts
6. Marit Strømøy (NOR) Emirates Racing Team 35pts
7. Sami Selio (FIN) Mad-Croc Baba Racing Team 19pts
8. Ahmed Al-Hameli (UAE) Victory Team 18pts
8. Erik Edin (SWE) Team Sweden/Team Amaravati 18pts
10. Francesco Cantando (ITA) Blaze F1 Team 17pts
11. Jonas Andersson (SWE) Team Sweden/Team Amaravati 14pts
12. Alex Carella (ITA) Victory Team 9pts
13. Bartek Marszalak (POL) Emirates Racing Team 8pts
14. Grant Trask (AUS) F1 Atlantic Team 5pts
14. Duarte Benavente (PRT) F1 Atlantic Team 5pts
14. Filip Roms (FIN) Mad-Croc Baba Racing Team 5pts
14. Cédric Deguisne (FRA) Maverick F1 Team 5pts
18. Simone Schuft (DEU) Blaze F1 Team 2pts
19. Sutthipan Sookbuangbon (THI) Maverick F1 Team 1pt