French driver and two-time world champion Philippe Chiappe made the perfect start and was in a class of his own in winning the inaugural Grand Prix of Dubai at the opening round of the 2016 UIM F1 H2O World Championship.
The CTIC China Team driver got a clean start and was pushed hard by Team Abu Dhabi driver Alex Carella. The three-time champion tried extremely hard to find a way past Chiappe, but that never happened as the Frenchman held on for his sixth career win.
Even after Sweden’s Jesper Forss had spectacularly flipped out of the race with just over 20 laps remaining, the CTIC China Team driver was able to fend off another late Carella challenge to start the defence of his world title in perfect style with a victory by 1.75 seconds.
The driver from Rouen said: “It was a great way to start the season and a great day for my team, as my young teammate ‘Leo’ Xiong managed to finish fifth for the best run in his career.
“The restart was no problem, as we had clear water, but the final few laps and a lot of traffic on this small 1.96 kilometre (1.22 mile) race circuit forced me to make every move a smart one in the final moments with Alex hovering right behind.
“It worked out in the end and it’s nice to go home with 20 points in the bank heading to my home race in Evian, France in mid-July.”
Carella said: “I tried everything I could to find a way to get close to Chiappe, but couldn’t quite do it. “I’m hoping we can find that little bit extra in France and this time take the victory there in July.”
Team Abu Dhabi’s other driver Thani Al Qamzi, who had qualified sixth, dropped out early on lap seven and wasn’t a factor.
Victory Team driver Shaun Torrente of Miami had to claw and scratch his way to the podium with a third place finish after starting fifth. The American finally passed Jonas Andersson of Team Sweden with a nifty move on the restart at the two-thirds mark of the race, earning him 12 valuable points for the home team.
“Yeah, I battled with Jonas all day long,” said Torrente. “We had great fun and I really enjoyed the restart. I’m worn out but satisfied with a podium start to the season.”
With the top four drivers finishing on the same lap, Chinese driver Xiong, a lap down, had the best finish of his career with a fifth after qualifying seventh off the dock.
There are few positions in sport burdened with such high-stress, split-second decisions as a skipper in sailing.
Navigating open waters, however, is something Nathan Outteridge relishes and thrives in.
The Australian began sailing at the age of five and has since gone on to achieve incredible success in the sport, winning a World Championship in the 49er class in 2008, 2009, 2011 and 2012, along with a gold medal in the class at the London Olympics.
Now, the 27-year-old leads Swedish team Artemis Racing in the 35th America’s Cup, the oldest trophy in international sport.
Sport360.com caught up with Outteridge in Oman, which was one of the stops in the preliminary World Series, to get his thoughts on the region, the atmosphere on a boat, the evolution of fitness in the sport and some of his favourite places to sail around the world.
What were your impressions of sailing in Oman?
Obviously it was a bit light the last couple of days, but it is a nice spot and you get the last little bit of sea breeze. For these boats, we kind of need a bit more wind to have a good time in them. It was a challenging race for sure.
Have you ever sailed in the Middle East before?
This was the first time I’ve ever come here or sailed here. I’ve stopped in the Middle East on the way to and from Europe to Australia, but this is the first time I’ve ever been here.
On the boat, what is the dynamic between you and the rest of the crew? Is it very hectic?
It’s really full on, as you can probably see from the television feed. There are a lot of ropes on board, there’s a lot to do with the runners, the sails, trimming and furling. Because the wind is so light, you need to be so graceful and have a lot of finesse and be smooth.
I’m kind of at the back, just sort of observing and explaining what our next move is and how long until we have to do it. The guys at the front are just trying to run around quickly, but smoothly and set up the front.
We have a huge separation so communication is very difficult.
Does that mean when you’re out of the boat, building communication is key?
We’re all on the same level. We’re all good mates, spending a lot of time together. If we’re in Bermuda, we’re in the gym at 07:30 together, with each other all day long, whether we’re sailing or not and we go home at seven o’clock at night. You look forward to Sundays sometimes just to have a day to chill out and have a day for yourself. But it’s good.
We’re slowly building our team. We had a small sailing team last year of only eight people and are growing it now to 12 or 13. These boats only need five people, but the America’s Cup boat will have six and we’re going to get two of them to race one against the other.
There are different skill sets as well. You need big guys for grinding, small guys at the back for driving. Every kilogram I can lose is a kilo they can put on, so there is a good amount of banter between everyone.
How much has the training for sailing changed over time, with more of a focus on building strength and getting fit?
It’s huge. These boats and especially the ones we’re coming to next year, there’s so much fitness involved. You’ve got guys going around the racecourse with heart rates in the 80-90 per cent max rate the whole way around. Obviously, the guys who are driving and trimming at the back, they’re lighter, so they don’t have to be as physically fit, but overall we do need to be as fit as you can be.
How crucial of a role does diet play into that?
Oh every day it’s super important. You have weight targets for all these events and the lighter the guys driving can be, the fitter the guys at the front can be. We’re on a full diet programme to get skinny and the guys in the front grinding are building as much muscle as they can.
What was your path into sailing?
I just did it from a young age. I grew up in Australia and my parents were into sailing. I took a liking to it, got pretty good at it, started travelling the world and it sort of led form there.
Is sailing an appealing sport for the youth?
I think it’s a very healthy sport. It keeps you balanced. You need to spend a lot of time thinking and making decisions. Every decision you make has consequences. There are not many sports where you get to make so many decisions and understand the weather, the environment and that sort of stuff. I think it’s a really great sport.
What other type of sports or hobbies are you into?
I don’t really get much time for that, but I do a little bit of windsurfing and kitesurfing, just for fun not really any racing. But every day of the year I’m basically sailing. I’ve got two full-time jobs between the Cup stuff and Olympic stuff. If I get a day off, I’m in bed all day sleeping.
As you mentioned, sailing takes you all around the world to great destinations. What are some of your personal favourite locations?
I think I’ve always enjoyed going to Italy and Europe. Lake Garda is a really good spot for sailing with fresh clean water and it always has a nice breeze. Bermuda has been a really great spot for us to go to. I wasn’t really sure what it was going to be like but it’s pretty nice out there.
And honestly I really like where I’m from. Australia is just a great place and good lifestyle. You often get a really good breeze and even in the winter it doesn’t get that cold so it’s quite a nice spot to go hang out all year round.
What’s next for you and the team between now and the next stop of the World Series in New York from May 7-8?
Everyone is heading back to Bermuda after this to get everything ready for our two-boat testing programme leading up to the Cup and obviously New York after that.
Most of it is focused on sailing in Bermuda and we have our new base that’s being launched next week, just putting the finishing touches on it now. Everyone is pretty excited to settle in there and be based there because last year was a lot of travel back and forth with us based in Alameda, California. We’re now in Bermuda, so it’s nice to get everyone in one spot.
Team Abu Dhabi will have high hopes as they begin their powerboat racing programme at the inaugural Grand Prix of Dubai, round one of the 2016 UIM F1 H20 World Championship, at the Dubai International Marine Club on Friday.
Team Abu Dhabi, the defending world champions, will be banking on their trusted pair of Thani Al-Qamzi and former world champion Alex Carella for a second season of F1 H20 races.
“We have been testing almost every day over the last few weeks in Abu Dhabi to make sure that everything is perfect for the start of the season,” said Carella, who has a new boat for the race and will be chasing a 12th career win.
“We have really improved a lot and Thani and I are really positive for the new season. This year I think we are in a much stronger position. The boat is ready and the engine is perfect. We know it will not be easy.
“Our rivals will be the same. Sami Selio is always very fast, Philippe (Chiappe)is the champion and Shaun (Torrente ) is very quick. But, as a team, I feel we are the strongest one!”
Team Abu Dhabi’s Mohammed Al-Mehairbi and Rashed Al-Qamzi finished fourth and sixth in last year’s F-4S Championship and the Abu Dhabi International Marine Sports Club has entered a pair of boats for this weekend’s two 20-minute races.
This is the first time Dubai will host a round of the H2O championship after a multiyear agreement with promoters.