Team Abu Dhabi’s Shaun Torrente and Thani Al-Qemzi delivered outstanding performances at Sunday evening’s Grand Prix of Portugal to claim first and second place in the Union Internationale Motonautique F1 H2O World Championship season opener in Portimão.
Florida native Shaun Torrente won a convincing start-to-finish race to open the F1 H2O season in Portimão, Portugal. Photos courtesy ADIMSC (click images below to enlarge).
Running out of the Abu Dhabi International Marine Sports Club, the American and Emirati teammates had qualified in first and second positions and held their nerve, despite a yellow-flag situation on the opening lap, to give the defending UIM Teams’ Championship winners a superb start to the season. Torrente’s 2.09-second victory on the Arada River in Portimão was the Florida driver’s first win since the 2016 Grand Prix of Sharjah. Rashed Al-Qemzi finished 13th in Team Abu Dhabi’s third boat.
“This was a perfect weekend for the team with a 1-2 finish,” an elated Torrente said in a press release from the team. “We had perfect preparation, everything went to plan, all the hard work paid off and the boat was fantastic. Now I am going to go home and hope that this wonderful start to the season wasn’t a dream.”
Three-time world champion Philippe Chiappe shadowed Italy’s four-time world champion Alex Carella for the majority of the race and managed to find a way by the Italian with 13 laps to run. The Frenchman then went on a charge to hunt down Thani Al-Qemzi and reached the finish 1.45 seconds behind the runner-up to claim third place.
Carella, who joined the Dubai-based Victory Team after winning the championship last year for Team Abu Dhabi, suffered trim issues and came under pressure from Chiappe’s CTIC China Team colleague Peter Morin and held on to a slender advantage for fourth place. His Victory Team colleague Ahmed Al-Hameli rounded off the top six.
Minutes before the start of the race, a violent thunderstorm passed over the course. Torrente stormed out of the blocks and he and Al-Qemzi began to edge clear of their rivals, as Carella struggled to get going and Chiappe and Al-Hameli moved up to third and fourth positions.
The race was yellow-flagged almost straight away when Jonas Andersson’s engine caught fire after a collision with Marit Strømøy. Both drivers were forced to retire before the green flag was raised on lap five. The Team Abu Dhabi duo maintained their positions, although Carella was the main beneficiary of the restart and settled back into third place, with Chiappe, Morin and Al-Hameli rounding off the top six.
By lap 16, Torrente’s lead over Thani Al-Qemzi had grown to 4.28 seconds, although the tussle for third was continuing between Carella and Chiappe. Morin was a distant fifth and Al-Hameli was dropping time in sixth. Al-Qemzi began to close the gap slightly on his teammate as the race reached lap 20 but the top 10 were holding station and 15 boats remained in the race.
At the halfway point, after 24 laps, Team Abu Dhabi maintained the top two positions and Torrente edged away from his Emirati colleague again to lead by 3.61 seconds. But the leaders started to move in on the back-markers and Al-Qemzi closed to within 2.03 seconds heading into lap 27 of what was developing into a processional race after the first-lap drama.
Conditions began to deteriorate slightly as the race progressed and the boats were losing their fuel loads and becoming lighter. Torrente put in the fist sub-46-second lap of the race and continued to lead Al-Qemzi by 3.51 seconds into lap 32. Less than a second separated Carella and Chiappe in the battle for third place.
Chiappe managed to squeeze passed Carella into third on lap 34 and never let go. He also posted the fastest lap of the race thus far—45.67 seconds—but the Team Abu Dhabi duo were too far in front of the Frenchman with only 11 laps remaining. By the start of lap 39, Torrente led Al-Qemzi by 4.39 seconds and Chiappe was already nearly nine seconds in front of a struggling Carella.
Torrente was now counting down the laps and trying to stay out of traffic, as Morin began to apply pressure on Carella in the battle for fourth with the Italian struggling with trim issues. With five laps remaining, Torrente maintained a lead of 3.76 seconds but Al-Qemzi could feel Chiappe breathing down his neck.
Torrente held his nerve and reached the checkered flag, while Al-Qemzi held off Chiappe to finish second and Carella and Morin rounded off the top five.