WITH A SUPERB PERFORMANCE AL WASL WINS RACE 1 IN DUBAI. A FLIPOVER OF AUSTRALIA IN QUALIFYING TAKES VICTORY TEAM CLOSER TO THE WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP
The Emirati duo start third and finish first, while the overall leaders from Australia spoil their chances of clinching the title, although not for their fault.
Dubai, December 1st 2017. The Dubai duo of Arif al Zaffein and Nadir bin Hendi came back to the first step of the podium today, one month after their win in China, with a strong performance in their home waters. The Al Wasl drivers started third, behind Gary Ballough and Ahmed al Hameli from Victory 33 – at their first race together in XCAT – and Victory 3 of Salem al Adidi and Eisa al Ali. Al Wasl pushed hard until the end and the long-laps strategy helped them to overtake the opponent and finish on top. Behind them, the spotlight was on Victory 3, runner-ups in the overall championship and comfortably third, but a superb comeback from Swecat (Erik Stark and Mikael Bengtsson) took the Swedes on the podium for the second time this season and relegated the Emirati crew to the fourth spot.
In the back, the 15 laps of the race – on almost flat water – saw many overtakes and change of positions, with Fujairah Team of Serafino Barlesi and Alessandro Barone being the “best of the rest” closing in P5. Sixth place today closes the door to team Abu Dhabi’s ambition for the title, while the Russian crew of New Star racing are surely glad of their seventh spot, as their hard work to improve the boat and the overall performance is starting to pay back.
The big news of the day, though, happened in the qualifying sessions before the race, when Team Australia suddenly flipped over during a turn. Brett Luhrmann and Pål Virik Nilsen exited unharmed, but the same can’t be said of their ambition to winning the 2017 crown: a break of the starboard engine mount made them lose control of the boat and could be the deciding factor of the championship. As allowed by the UIM rules, a crew can change their boat once in a season, so they found an agreement with Lady Spain and stepped into the cockpit of the Spanish boat, with barely the time to stick their 8 number on the sides. This implied starting in last position and especially driving a boat with a different setup. At the end of the day, their eighth position in the race means not losing too much ground to Victory 3 and taking them to an amazing battle tomorrow, when Race 2 will close a thrilling season and crown the 2017 UIM XCAT World Champions.
Arif al Zaffein is extremely happy for the win: “We had a good start, but especially we pushed to the limit for the entire race. The choice of the right time for the long laps, helped by our team manager on the radio, did the rest. But this success couldn’t be possible without my ‘brother’ (Nadir bin Hendi). You can’t say Arif without Nadir, and you can’t say Nadir without Arif”.
And while a satisfied yet humble Gary Ballough wants to share the good result of today with the whole team, his mate Ahmed al Hameli adds “I am very happy to race in the cockpit with Gary, after having been opponents for many years. He’s the best throttleman I could find, as he never stops pushing the gas wide open”.
Micke Bengtsson and Erik Stark almost can’t believe their achievement: “We started in P7”, says the latter, “and we fought our way to P4…” and Micke completes the sentence ”…thanks to a good strategy and a good setup. We beat Victory on the last corner, what a good race!”.
But tomorrow all the attention will be on Brett Luhrmann – Pål Virik Nilsen on one side, and Salem al Adidi – Eisa al Ali on the other, as the Aussies trail the Dubai opponents by one single point, but starting the race from the back. The battle for the title is on until the last chequered flag.