Frenchman Philippe Chiappe clinched his third successive UIM F1 H2O World Championship title after a thrilling climax to the season at the Grand Prix of Sharjah on Khaled Lagoon on Friday.
Needing to finish inside the top 10, regardless of whether arch rival Shaun Torrente of the Victory Team won the race outright, Chiappe made a superb start and stormed passed pole sitter Jonas Andersson on the first lap.
He eventually ceded the race win to Torrente and cruised to the finish in second place to claim a third title for the CTIC F1 Shenzhen China Team. In the last F4-S race of the season, Team Abu Dhabi’s Mohammed Al-Mehairbi qualified second behind Jeremy Brisset and shadowed the Frenchman and Finland’s Kalle Viippo to the end of a processional 22-lap finale to the championship to confirm sixth in the points’ standings.
Brisset duly won his second race of the weekend by 2.06 seconds, but missed out on the runner-up spot in the series to Dutchman Ferdinand Zandbergen. Team Abu Dhabi’s Rashed Al-Qamzi had won the title last weekend in Abu Dhabi.
It was Victory Team’s first Grand Prix win in only their second season in the championship, with Torrente clinching a much-deserved runners-up slot in the driver’s championship and Victory taking second place behind CTIC F1 Shenzhen China in the Team championship.
Chiappe made a blistering start to jump pole-sitter Jonas Andersson, with Torrente matching the move and pressing the race leader as the two title rivals then edged away from the chasing pack of Jonas Andersson, Erik Stark, Bartek Marszalek and Alex Carella.
On lap 14 of 45 the yellow flag was raised when Chiappe’s teammate Xiong Ziwei barrel-rolled out of the race. The boats were held for five laps and then released with Torrente making an immediate move to pass Chiappe.
Sami Selio joined the chase and passed Carella on lap 20, the Italian taking back the place a lap later, then on lap 23 Stark faltered and lost ground, slipping to fifth, with Carella now leading the chase to try to overhaul Chiappe and Andersson, with Selio pressing frantically and trying everything to pass Carella.
Out front Torrente continued to stretch his lead, going on to take the chequered flag and his maiden win for Victory Team by 25.77 seconds. Despite the intense pressure Chiappe delivered a true champions’ drive and held his nerve and held off the challenge of the duo behind him to take his sixth podium of the year and become only the third driver in the 33-year history of the sport to win a hat-trick of world titles.
Carella looked set for third place when on lap 42 he suddenly retired to compound a bad afternoon for Team Abu Dhabi, teammates Thani Al Qamzi going out on lap 31 and debutant Rashed Al Qamzi on lap 11.
It was a miraculous feat for the teenage debutant who only passed his driving test in September.
Sold-out crowds lined the drifting track at Muscat’s Port Sultan Qaboos. Racers entered from all over the Gulf and beyond. Victory was particularly sweet for local hero Al Hadidy, who is only 18 and was making his debut. He took first place with 390 points.
“I feel so happy; I really wasn’t expecting to win. It is fantastic that this year it was an all-Omani podium,” said Al Hadidy who claimed before the event that his dream was to put his country on the map for drifting and motorsport.
“I only got my driver’s license three months ago so I am ecstatic about this win. If you love your hobby, you will do anything for it.”
Emirati drifter Faisal Al Zaabi, who qualified for the final after clinching victory in the UAE qualifier held in Ajman, could not hide his disappointment.
“A single mistake in the first round was enough to put an end to our hopes,” he said. “I extend my apologies to the supporters and to the team who worked hard to get the car ready. Now is the time to put the mistakes of the past behind us, and look forward to a stronger performance next year.”
It was a bittersweet result for long-time national champion Ali Al Balushi, who took home second place after finishing tied with Al Hadidy. The teen was awarded the title as he scored more second round points. Tarek Al Shaihani completed the all-Omani podium.
“We trained hard and we dedicate this win to the people of Oman,” he said.
Judges focused on a range of different criteria including drifting skills and car and tire smoke.
Today was a huge learning curve overall because it was my first rally and race of this nature where you have to combine navigation and riding skills.
So it was a very new experience but luckily I had a bit of prep with my dad because he helped me with the navigation side of things, because I’d never incorporated that in a race so far.
In the first stage, everything went well, I had a good start and I was riding with a couple of other riders who I could pace myself with.
The only struggle was kind of getting used to the navigating versus following other people’s routes. You kind of have to trust yourself that even if another rider goes one way and you see that you’re supposed to go the other because they might have gone wrong – to trust your gut feeling is kind of hard sometimes and you freak out. So at one point I did have to double-back and try and find my way again even though I was on the right way but I just got kind of scared because I didn’t see any tracks anymore.
But I was really happy with my result of the first stage because I came in 15th of 33 riders who finished and overall, health and fitness-wise, I felt pretty good.
It was a really enjoyable race. We had a two-hour break after that and by the time that stage two rolled around, it got really windy and dusty. Even though you kind of already had the tracks to follow for most of it, I still tried to follow my GPS as much as possible. I had two, with two different settings, and one of them kept shutting off, so I was back to one GPS, which was a bit of a struggle. So I had to stop a couple of times to recalibrate the one I was focusing on. And even though you had all the tracks out there, because it was so windy some of them did get blown away and at some points I was a bit unsure because some areas were more heavily-trafficked.
A lot of it is, I found, really trusting your gut feeling and kind of combining what others do and what you see on your GPS. I didn’t come out as good in the second stage because I stopped a couple of times. And I came off once, another rider was coming in hot behind me so I tried to speed up and we both crashed because we were going really fast into an area where you had to kind of slow down, it was some tight dunes. So that was interesting.
In the second stage I came in 22nd of 31 and that left me overall at 19th place. I won the ladies division by default. Overall for my first experience I’m really happy because I didn’t have any accidents, I finished, and I think everything I managed to plan out as good as I could for my first race and I had really good support from Vendetta Racing, my dad, and my significant other.
It was cool to see how the guys were so supportive and willing to help out. I had a bit of a radiator cap problem, so they helped me out and switched mine out. It’s also cool, at the first stage when I came into the finish there was a couple of guys waiting already and they were a bit surprised that I came in so quickly I think which was really cool.
I think the feedback was to also try and get more ladies into it. Overall it was just a really good learning experience. I’m really looking forward to the race in March. I hope that we can have this on the calendar for next year again.
If I compare this to the Emirates Desert Championship that we do, I think this is more of a strategic and mental race. I actually enjoyed it a lot more because there are a couple of elements that come in other than just being fast and following a track as fast as possible.
I think for next time, if I were to work on something, it would be just working more with my GPS, making sure I have one that actually works and reliably stays on. Hopefully this is a nice little stepping stone to maybe work towards the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge in the future.
I was really happy with my bike set-up compared to other bikes because mine is a KTM 450 SXF, it’s more of a motocross bike than a rally bike. It’s a lot lighter, I’m a lot lighter compared to others, I think that gave me a little bit of an advantage. Also my fuel consumption is a lot less so I managed to go on one tank throughout the whole stage each time.
I would like to thank Vendetta Racing for helping me out in the pit and ATCUAE for setting up a really good event.