Just one point now separates the teams at the top of the UIM XCAT World Series Standings after an exhilarating third round at the Cascais GP on Sunday.
Having won the opening round of the Series in February, the Abu Dhabi Team (Rashed Al Tayer and Faleh Al Mansoori) came into the race as Series leaders. But a bad start and then later engine trouble saw them slip out of contention, eventually finishing in fifth spot while last year’s winners, XDubai, produced a flawless performance to take the win.
The XDubai pair of Arif Al Zaffain and Nadir bin Hendi proved untouchable as they led from the start, mastering the tricky conditions that saw the race committee changing the course just an hour before, and crossed the line first.
T-Bone Station (Giovanni Carpitella and Marco Pennesi) continued their bad run of luck so far this season. The Italian duo were in second spot for much of the race but a sudden loss of their power steering meant they had to abandon their chase as it was unsafe to continue.
— XCATracing (@XCATracing) June 14, 2015
Behind them the Yachts duo of Francois Pinelli and Saul Bubacco were engaged in a fierce battle with the Abu Dhabi Team for third spot. It was one they eventually won, with Abu Dhabi pushing just that little bit too hard and eventually succumbing to engine trouble, so slipping down the placings.
The Hoorsenbuhs team of Tomaso Polli and Matteo Nicolini made the most of the gap and pounced on third spot – their second podium finish of the season. With that, the Italian team have moved into third place overall in the Series.
XDubai’s Bin Hendi explained after the race, that taking top spot in the overall standings was their main priority. “We were looking forward to that. We were calculating a lot this afternoon and we said we wish we could become number one,” he explained.
The XDubai team of Arif Al Zaffain and Nadir bin Hendi waited until the dying seconds of this morning’s XCAT Pole Position session to book top spot in Sunday’s Cascais GP.
In a fiercely contested battle, the series’ defending champions overtook current leaders Abu Dhabi Team, with a fastest lap time of 2:33.70 with only seconds left of qualifying.
Their decision to go for one final lap paid off with Al Zaffain and Bin Hendi making the most of a dying wind.
Abu Dhabi Team will start Sunday’s race in second spot, having recorded a time of 2:35.46, with French team Yachts starting third after a fastest lap of 2:36.89.
Taking up the all-important final spot in the top gate will be T-Bone Station.
“The conditions changed a lot. It was getting better but at times the wind increased again so it was tough,” admitted an elated Al Zaffain afterwards.
“But I felt that the very last minutes would be the best so we went to play our last chance and that’s when we got the last two seconds off our time that we needed and we got first place.
XDubai claim Pole Position in last-minute thriller pic.twitter.com/Kti8EPP5dw
— XCATracing (@XCATracing) June 13, 2015
“It’s a very good race track. It’s more like a Formula 1 track.”
Speaking about Sunday’s race, which kicks off at 3pm local time, Al Zaffain added: “I think tomorrow there will be a lot of competition, especially for the drivers and not so much for the throttlemen.
“The start will not be easy because I have seen that all the boats are fast. Our concern is to stay as far ahead as possible of number five [Abu Dhabi Team], as they are still leading the championship and we need as many points as possible.”
Team Abu Dhabi, meanwhile, are confident they can move ahead of XDubai during Sunday’s race.
“The water was very rough today and we had a great, fun time. We were pushing very hard to finish first but XDubai pushed harder and they finished ahead of us, but it’s ok. We can do something in the race,” said Abu Dhabi Team’s Rashed Al Tayer.
“In the race anything can happen so it’s not finished yet. We will wait for the race”
Teammate Faleh Al Mansoori added: “The conditions today were awesome. This is real XCAT weather – it’s really a race. The drivers can come and prove themselves in these kind of conditions.
“The plan tomorrow is to have fun, drive and try to finish first, that’s it.”
The Cascais GP takes place on Sunday, 14 June at 3pm. Viewers who aren’t in Portugal can follow all the action via live streaming by following the links on www.xcatracing.com.
Can you tell us a little about your background in kitesurfing?
I got into the sport through my father. He competed in catamaran sailing with my mother at the pre-Olympics for the French team. When we moved to the Dominican Republic he made the transition to kite surfing and I went out a couple of times with him.
Did you find it easy when you started?
I didn’t find kitesurfing the hardest thing in the world, I had learned the basics with my father before actually taking classes and everything was already pretty natural. The only thing I had trouble with was going upwind which took a bit longer for me to actually get it going.
What do you love most about the sport?
The adrenaline. It’s the fun, the speed, the jumps and the freedom of being on the water that I love. You might say that I prefer being on the water than the land!
Is it a dangerous sport? Did you say something about jellyfish?
Jellyfish are a problem for kite surfers only in Dubai. We have something called jellyfish season where for a couple of months in the summer there are just loads of them. It’s dangerous because if you get stung too much then it becomes too painful to kite surf – I know because I have been stung a lot! Dangers that apply for all kite surfers though come from crashing or being hit by the board. I haven’t had too many bad crashes. I have been shaken up for a couple of minutes before and have some cuts and bruises but nothing too bad.
What is it like being the only kitesurfer in GEMS Sports Academy?
It’s interesting as I am kind of like the lone wolf. I have a different timetable to everyone else when it comes to training and nobody knows much about the kitesurfing as it is a brand new sport to the academy.
Does it work in your favour being the only kite surfer in the academy?
I like it when people start asking questions and some of the other students have shown an interest in what I do. For example, I sometimes teach the swimmers some of the basics of the sport as they are interested and I enjoy that. It can work against me though as some people don’t much about my sport and therefore do not consider me as much of an athlete as other students. But ultimately I love the sport so I do not mind.
How do GEMS support you?
Academically they support me the same as everyone else at the academy. In terms of my sport the main benefit of being at GEMS is the strength and conditioning training that I receive. It keeps me injury free and prevents me from fatiguing during competition which is important. Also they adapt my timetable so that I am able to train outside with the kite.
What is your typical day like at GEMS?
I start school at 7.45 and finish at 1.20 in the afternoon. From there I either hit the gym or come to the beach to go kite surfing. I train with the kite every single day so it is a good routine to be in.
What is your best achievement in the sport?
For sure it’s the hydrofoil 2012 World Championships in France where I won the junior category. It was the first time I tasted success on that scale and made be believe that I could achieve something great in the sport – it was a fantastic occasion and it was pleasing to beat great kitesurfers from around the world.
Where do you see your future in the sport? Do you want to go pro?
Not completely. I definitely want to continue it but I will first need to get a different job so that I can sustain my involvement in the sport and keep entering competitions. Kitesurfing is only good if you have enough money to make it to the best tournaments so the harder I work outside of kite surfing, the more likely it is that I can go far on the water.
Do you think kitesurfing could become an Olympic sport and you could follow in your parents’ footsteps ?
Hopefully. While it is a requirement of our sport to have wind, you do not need coast to have a competition. Some of the best kite surfing you will see happens on lakes and it is a really spectator-friendly sport so the crowds would love it. It’s exciting, creative and fun. To compete in an Olympics like my parents would be a fantastic incentive for me to train towards.