Fifty years after American Jim Wynne won the first UIM-sanctioned World Drivers’ Championship in 1964, the sport will celebrate its anniversary season with this weekend’s historic first Class 1 World Championship Grand Prix in the People’s Republic of China.
The bustling city port of Sanya on the southernmost point of Hainan Island, often referred to as the Chinese Riviera, should provide one of the most diverse and exciting backdrops of the year when it hosts the season-opening Sanya Grand Prix starting this Thursday (March 28).
Defending World, Middle East and Edox Pole Position Champions Arif Al Zaffain and Mohammed Al Marri of Victory Team will lead a nine-boat fleet that is expected to put on quite a show for the anticipated tens of thousands of fans. The location of the newly constructed dry and wet pits puts the Class 1 boats into the heart of the hustle and bustle of the port to share the water with the fleets of traditional fishing and trading boats, as well as luxury super yachts moored opposite the imposing Visun Royal Yacht Club.
A mere 21 years ago in 1993, the Victory Team lifted its first world championship. This year, the team is a heavy favorite to finish where it left off in 2012 and earn a 13th world title, adding to the team’s remarkable tally of 93 wins in 168 starts.
Al Zaffain and Al Marri have proved a powerful force since teaming-up at the end of 2011, winning eight times in 11 outings and qualifying in pole position five times. Team Abu Dhabi heads the list of challengers who face the daunting task of trying to beat the champions.
Rashed Al Tayer and Majed Al Mansoori have grown in stature since being paired up for the first time in 2011. Their season haul of six podiums last year saw them push Victory Team all the way to the end and eventually take the runner-up spot, Team Abu Dhabi’s best overall finish.
Chasing both the Middle East outfits will be Italy’s Fendi Racing with Luca Formilli Fendi and Giovanni Carpitella, a revitalized combination since switching from their Outerlimits into a Victory hull powered by SCAM V12s. The team is looking to build on its third-place finish in last year’s standings. The lineup in the second Fendi Racing boat—the Outerlimits hull—will see two newcomers joining the ranks, with Italian Alfredo Amato teaming up with Englishman Miles Jennings.
A lineup switch in Victory Australia sees Australia’s Ross Willaton step in for Peter McGrath to take the throttles alongside partner and countryman Darren Nicholson. The Australian duo will run the same Victory hull powered by Victory V12 power plants that Nicholson and McGrath made good use of in the final two races of 2012.
Teaming up to race together for the first time and to run under the colors of Sanya and event organizer Visun Group are two of Norway’s most accomplished powerboat stars—Marit Strømøy and Pål Virik Nilsen.
Strømøy will swap the confines of her single-seater F1 H2O circuit boat to take the wheel beside the experienced Nilsen in the Maritimo-designed and built hull powered by Mercury V8 power plants that she made her Class 1 debut in Brazil in 2010. Nilsen is an accomplished Class 1 veteran with 32 starts under his belt. He made his Class 1 debut in 2005 and in 2007 he switched roles from driver to throttleman to form an exciting partnership with Tom Barry-Cotter—the duo went on to win a hat trick of titles in the Australian Offshore Superboat Championship (2008-2010).