While his Team Abu Dhabi teammate ended up with the checkered flag following the Union Internationale Motonautique F1 H2O World Championship season finale at the 19th Grand Prix of Sharjah on Abu Dhabu’s Khalid Lagoon on Saturday, American driver Shaun Torrente’s third-place finish was enough to be crowned the 2018 world champion after a hard-fought season in which he won three of seven races.
Shaun Torrente (center) finished third in Sharjah, UAE, today to earn his first F1 H2O world championship, while with his Team Abu Dhabi teammates Erik Stark (left) and Thani Al-Qemzi ended the season in second and third place overall. Photos courtesy ADIMSC
“This has been my lifelong dream and ambition,” Torrente said following the race. “I thank everyone at home in Fort Myers and my amazing team at Team Abu Dhabi. We had problems the last two races. My teammates said ‘Keep your head up, it will work out.’ I came from seventh to third and I did just that. We made it work and we are world champions together.
“What a race—what a restart,” he continued. “I was fighting my mind trying to keep it all together. I was just managing my race. I knew I was in a good spot. I was just trying to get it home. I got a run on the second restart on Sami (Selio) and I just let it hang. Thankfully it didn’t blow over. I knew I was there. I knew I was safe in fourth if it stayed like that. It’s all done now. I couldn’t take another day like that!”
Stark’s victory was bittersweet, but a great way to end the season.
“I didn’t hope too much before, you know,” Stark said. “Shaun is a very good driver. I did my race and I could not do any more. I had some bad luck in Abu Dhabi. That was it.”
The three-driver battle for the championship became a duel when Team Abu Dhabi’s third driver, Thani Al-Qemzi, sustained engine issues midway through the race. The Emirati had moved up from sixth to third at the start, but was pegged back by an unfortunate yellow flag. He held third until technical issues ruined the title dream after 17 of the 44 laps.
“This is racing,” a disappointed Al-Qemzi said. “I broke my engine. Maybe some electrics broke inside. I did my best from the start. I was second and there was an accident and I went back to sixth at the next start. I pushed hard, but I had no luck.”
Team Amaravati’s Jonas Andersson finished in a solid second place and Finland’s Sami Selio of the Mad-Croc Baba Racing Team finished fourth with Andersson’s teammate, Erik Edin, rounding off the top five. Their performances were overshadowed somewhat by the Team Abu Dhabi fever at the top of the championship standings.
Following the Grand Prix of Sharjah, Dr. Sheikh Sultan bin Khalifa Al-Nahyan, advisor to the Head of State and chairman of the board of directors of the Abu Dhabi International Marine Sports Club, congratulated Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, President of the UAE, on Team Abu Dhabi’s second successive world title and the sixth in the team’s history.
He also congratulated Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, UAE vice president, prime minister and ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, crown prince of Abu Dhabi and deputy supreme commander of the UAE Armed Forces, and the Supreme Council members and the people of the UAE on the achievement.
Team Abu Dhabi’s Mohammed Al-Mehairbi rounded off his F4 Trophy challenge with seventh place in the second of the weekend’s races where Frenchman Tom Chiappe claimed the title for the Emirates Racing Team by finishing the race in third behind Alexander Lindholm and German title rival Max Stilz. The Victory Team’s Ahmed Al-Fahim led from the start pontoon to the checkered flag but was handed a one-lap penalty for jumping the start.
After all the hype and fanfare in the build-up to the showdown, Stark, Al-Qemzi and Torrente lined up in pole, sixth and seventh on the pontoon. Stark needed a top-two finish in the 44-lap race to stand any chance of claiming the title. Torrente needed to finish in front of Al-Qemzi or at least fourth if Stark was to win. Engine changes pushed Philippe Chiappe of the CTIC F1 Shenzhen China Team, Grant Trask of the F1 Atlantic Team and Erik Edin of Team Amaravati down the starting order.
A spanner in the potential works for Torrente was the introduction of a demarcation buoy for those sitting in P7 to P17, while the top six would head along the 530-meter straight for the commitment buoy. The touch paper had been set for on-water fireworks.
Torrente’s third-place finish in Sharjah was enough to complete the season atop the points standings.
A slight headwind into the first turn didn’t help matters, but Stark and Al-Qemzi made a stunning start and managed to hold first and third through the opening turns. But a yellow flag for Sutthipan Sookbuangbon’s barrell-roll at turn one ruined the Emirati’s start and he was pushed back to sixth before the resumption.
Action resumed on lap three and Stark maintained his lead from Andersson, Al-Qemzi, Selio and Torrente, but Torrente moved past Selio into fourth place. Al-Qemzi and Torrente nearly came together on the next couple of turns and lost a little real estate heading into lap six, as Stark continued to lead Andersson by 2.56 seconds. It was advantage Torrente in the title stakes as it stood. Victory Team driver Alex Carella overtook Selio to snatch fifth place.
Stark maintained his lead over Andersson, Al-Qemzi and Torrente and extended his advantage to 4.08 seconds at one-quarter distance. Bartek Marszalek was sidelined on lap 11, but the leading six drivers held station and Stark reached lap 15 with a 2.97-second lead. The title was still in Torrente’s hands on count back so long as he finished fourth and Al-Qemzi wasn’t able to overtake Andersson and Stark and grab the lead.
Stark’s lead grew to 4.32 seconds on lap 16, but drama unfolded when Al-Qemzi spluttered off the circuit with engine electrical issues on lap 18 and Torrente moved up to third. It strengthened the American’s grip on the world title. Stark led by 4.41 seconds at the halfway point and the pressure eased still further on Torrente when Carella suffered technical issues of his own on lap 21. The four-time world champion’s demise lifted Selio into fourth behind Stark, Andersson and Torrente.
Stark maintained a solid lead of 4.13 seconds over Andersson into lap 27, but Torrente began to ease his pace slightly to conserve the engine and stay in third place. There were no changes to the running order inside the top 10 into lap 28, although Selio began to close in on Torrente and Peter Morin was forced out of the race. Torrente needed to be careful not to fall foul of an overtaking challenge by Selio and he managed to hold a 2.04-second lead over the Finn at the end of lap 34.
Race leader Stark kept his composure and guided his DAC through the closing laps to confirm a start-to-finish victory. But it wasn’t enough to claim the world title. Torrente was happy to shadow Andersson at a distance and fend off the challenges from Selio and fifth-place finisher Francesco Cantando. He was 1.84 seconds in front of Selio with eight laps to run and coasted to the finish line in third place to seal his first world title and Team Abu Dhabi’s sixth. Cantando ran out of luck five laps from the finish and his retirement lifted Erik Edin into fifth place.
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