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Qatar’s Oryx Cup to Decide H1 Unlimited Championship

The final round of the 2014 H1 Unlimited season is set to wrap up this weekend as the Qatar Marine Sports Federation plays host to the Oryx Cup Union Internationale Motonautique World Championship on Doha Bay.

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The H1 staff and its teams are getting their boats ready for this weekend’s season finale in Doha, Qatar. Photo courtesy Peters & May

Established in 2009 by QMSF President Sheikh Hassan bin Jabor Al-Thani and former H1 Unlimited Chairman Sam Cole, the Oryx Cup has evolved into one of the most popular rounds of the series. This year 10 teams are expected to grace the waters of Doha Bay starting with testing and qualifying on Thursday.

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While Oh Boy! Oberto driver Jimmy Shane holds a comfortable 832-point in the H1 Unlimited championship, the championship isn’t out of reach with Shane’s closest challenger—J. Michael Kelly—driving the defending series and Oryx Cup champion Graham Trucking boat.

It was Shane who drove Kelly’s current boat to the Oryx Cup championship in 2012 and 2013 for Team Porter Racing, but Kelly’s name also is on the trophy as winner of the inaugural race in 2009, also driving for Team Porter.

“We are definitely going to Doha to make a run at the Oryx Cup and the series championship,” said team owner Ted Porter. “We need to pick up points and narrow the gap every chance we get starting with qualifying. It will mean three days of qualifying and racing hard with high finishes in the preliminary heats and then we probably need to win the Final. Hopefully its close enough at that point that it puts us over the top.”

Thanks to the crew at Peters & May, which sponsors the U-11 boat driven by Tom Thompson, all of the equipment arrived in Doha from the United States last Friday. According to a QMSF press release, the federation is relishing the prospect of welcoming the impressive raceboats just a week after hosting the third round of the UIM F1 H2O World Championships (read the story).

“We started H1 here in Qatar in 2009 and it has been very successful for us in terms of hosting and in terms of teams representing Qatar,” said Sheikh Hassan. “Sam (Cole) did a wonderful job setting this up and getting all the boats from the U.S. to come halfway around the world to compete here in Doha.”

Cole stepped down this season and legendary hydroplane driver Steve David—a favorite with the Doha crowds following his spectacular performances at the helm of the Oh Boy! Oberto/Miss Madison boat in recent seasons—took his place at the head of the sport.

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“Now, I think, with Steve (David) being a racer and taking Sam’s seat, there is huge potential for the sport to grow,” Sheikh Hassan said. “I know a lot of people talk about the rules. I know Steve is working on new rules to maybe implement next year.

“Expansion of the H1 series to other countries all depends on what people’s perception of the sport is,” he continued. “There was talk about China and the UAE, but nothing tangible has happened. I think with more exposure for H1, there is always the potential for new countries to come into the fold. The big hiccup is the movement of these boats around the world. If you are committed to six or seven rounds, it takes at least two or three months to get the boats to places like Qatar, the UAE or China in terms of sailing time.”

An outspoken Sheikh Hassan added that the beauty of the Unlimited hydroplane format is the short nature of the races.

“When you do a three- or four-lap heat, the race is over in maybe three minutes,” Sheikh Hassan said. “It depends on whether you are racing on salt or freshwater. I don’t envision any problems in making the races longer on freshwater if your boat is hosed down by another boat but, if you get hosed down with salt, you know your equipment is done. Four laps on saltwater are OK, but with spray and salt mist in the air that can damage the turbines.”

He thinks that a change from the sport’s traditional Lycoming turbine engines built for helicopter and military use could be a step forward.

“For me, I think there is potential for new power systems, new engines,” he continued. “I’m sure if they convert to these new engines, then it would be possible to do more laps.”

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