Wednesday, 4 March: Fifty eight riders from 18 countries, including a raft of World Champions past and present and a host of talented new riders across the categories, took to the waters of Doha Bay for the first official practice sessions of the UIM-ABP Aquabike World Championship season-opener at the Grand Prix of Qatar.


    French riders have dominated in Doha since the Championship first came to Qatar in 2011; in Runabout Teddy Pons will be looking to take his first Grand Prix title in the Qatari capital city, but first he has to overcome his countryman and nemesis Cyrille Lemoine who has won the title here for the last three years, taking four out of six heat wins.

    2015 sees Lemoine enter the unknown, to a degree, fronting up a new team of three riders, Team 2B Agosport, the multiple-World Champion launching his title challenge with a new Yamaha bike-engine package. “It is a big decision, the first time in 19 years that I change supplier. But I had to take it after last year’s disappointments,” he said. “We have had little time to test but I am confident that the Yamaha package will give me reliability as well as performance.”

    Both Pons and Lemoine will face still opposition, not least from Jeremy Perez who narrowly missed out in the title chase last season but rounded out the year in top spot in the prestigious UIM World Rankings.

    Francois Medori will be hoping the now two year development programme of his Kawasaki is over as he looks to regain the title he won in 2012. “We have worked on the hull over the winter and that has improved the handling especially in the turns,” he said. “We have good acceleration but still need to find some more top end speed.”

    Sweden’s World number three Lars Akerblom and Poland’s Andrezj Wisniewski head-up the European challenge looking to break the French dominance.

    The Middle East assault for honours comes from 2013 World Champion, Kuwaiti Youssef Al Abdulrazzaq who will be hoping to end his run of appalling results in Qatar, failing to score points in his last five outings, with Thamer Al-Darwish heading-up a quartet of Qatari riders.

    Making their debuts on the UIM-ABP tour are two heavyweights of the World famous Karujet from Martinique, 2014 winner Ugo Fidelin and 2013 runner-up Christophe Concoriet.

    In practice defending World Champion Teddy Pons led the line of 29 riders; Qatar’s Waleed Al Sharshani topped the times sheets in group 2 with 1:48.32 ahead of countryman Rashid Al Manai and Kuwaiti Mohamad Burbayae.

    Group 1 was dominated by another Kuwaiti Yousef Al Abdulrazzaq posting the fastest time, 1:47.64, with tour returnee Jean-Baptiste Botti, stepping up from Ski to Runabout, second quickest in 1:50.29, Qatar’s Mohamed Al Heidus third quickest in 1:51.72.

    In the 20 minute pre-qualifying sessions to reduce the entry for tomorrow’s qualifying and heat 1 to 25 riders, three riders were eliminated from the group of ten. Mohamad Burbaye went quickest in 1:44.91 ahead of Mohamad Al Baz and Waleed Al Sharshani, Gianluca Santi Amantini, Christophe Agostinho and Mohammed Mohsen failing to make the cut.

    Having seen off the challenge from US rival and seasoned veteran Chris MacClugage last year, defending World Champion Jeremy Poret launches his campaign for a fourth Ski World title.

    Poret is another with a great record in Qatar, winning the GP title last year and in 2011 and 2012, but now faces a quartet of young pretenders to his crown, 19-year-old Markus Lutsokert from Portugal, 21-year-old Brock Austin from the USA, 22-year-old Kevin Reiterer from Austria and 23-year-old Valentin Dardillat from France.

    The Frenchman will also will have to fend off the likes of Italian veteran Alberto Monti, 21-year-old Spaniard Nacho Armillas and Slovenia’s Tomaz Kete, not to mention his [Poret’s] brothers Mickael and Morgan who are both running a new bike-engine packages.

    In practice Poret let his rivals know that he will be the one to beat, topping the time sheets with 1:46.85, 1.82 seconds quicker than Armillas and over three seconds quicker than his older brother Mickael, Lutsokert the best of the newcomers with 1:52.22.

    A strong line-up of eight in Ski Ladies was headed by the World’s top three, French rivals Jennifer Menard and Estelle Poret and Italy’s Marta Sorrentino, Menard posting the best time in practice, 1:52.67.

    Of the two newcomers to the tour, Kylie Ellmers from New Zealand  and Yuki Kurahashi from Japan, it was Ellmers who stood out and going second quickest with 1:55.18 ahead of the two youngest riders out on the water, Sweden’s Emma-Nellie Ortendhal, 16 and Jonna Borgstrom, 17.

    Tomorrow’s action kicks-off with official qualifying starting at 09:30hrs [local] followed by the opening heats from 14:00hrs, the day rounding out with a spectacular night show of Freestyle and Runabout and Ski Parallel Slalom, starting at 19:00hrs.

    For full set of results visit: aquabike.net

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