Monday, 3 March, DOHA (Qatar): The World’s elite riders descend on Qatar this week to take to the waters of Doha Bay in front of the Capital’s spectacular Corniche as the UIM-ABP Aquabike Class-Pro World Championship kicks off its 20th season with the fourth Grand Prix of Qatar [6-8 March], organised by the Qatar Marine Sports Federation.
The prospects of a mouth-watering season to mirror a nail-biting 2013 campaign by all the competitors is heightened by a star-studded line up with an initial entry of 45 riders from 16 countries set to start out on their campaigns to compete for the most prestigious titles in World racing – the UIM-ABP Aquabike Class-Pro World Championship in Runabout GP1, Ski GP1 and Freestyle.
The list already reads like a who’s who of the best-of-the-best in World competition with Champions past and present across all the categories peppering the entry. And the numbers are likely to swell at official registration on Wednesday [5 March] with a large entry of riders from across the Middle East anticipated, with Champions Rok Florjancic, Mickael Poret and Yousef Al Abdulrazzaq leading out the riders to start the defence of their titles.
In the spectacular Freestyle category Florjancic will undoubtedly be the one to beat. The 28 year-old from Maribor in Slovenia took maximum points last season and is unbeaten in eight Grand Prix outings on the UIM-ABP tour, and picked up his first UIM-ABP World title in Doha last year, in some style and leaving spectators speechless, rounding off his final set of tricks with 19 backflips.
His strongest challenge will come from his younger brother and the 2012 World Champion Nac [Florjancic] and Italian showman and 2009 World Champion Valerio Calderoni, who won the Qatar GP title in 2011, with Serbia’s Aleksandar Petrovic facing the daunting prospect of taking on the trio of superstars.
The line-up in Ski GP1 is spectacular and will see France’s Mickael Poret start the defence of the crown he won in such dramatic fashion in Abu Dhabi last year from the 2013 European Champion, Portugal’s Tiago Sousa and Italy’s multiple Champion, Alberto Monti.
Both Sousa and Monti will be chomping at the bit to make a good start to the year after both saw their title hopes disappear in Abu Dhabi after officials slapped them with a DQ apiece for a technical infringement post-race, gifting the title to Poret.
Of the three it is Sousa who has the better record in Doha, taking a heat and title win last year to Monti’s heat win.
Adding to the strength in depth in talent in Ski is the welcome return of double World Champion Jeremy Poret, who along with the youngest of the three Poret brothers, Morgan, will be intent on keeping the Poret name on the World Championship trophy in 2014 – a title the Poret dynasty has held since 2010.
Another to look out for is Spain’s Nacho Armillas, who won the season opener in Italy last year, and is back on the tour after an injury cut short his 2013 challenge mid-season.
Looking to usurp the 15 riders from Europe this year and try to take the title back across the Atlantic to the USA is simply one of the biggest and most acclaimed names in World racing, Macc Racing’s 18 times World and 15 times National Champion from Lake Havasu, Arizona, Chris MacClugage, making his UIM-ABP tour debut.
“I have beaten all the riders on the tour at one time or another, so I believe I can have a great chance at winning the Championship.”
The New Jersey born-Havasu resident runs Macc Racing, a performance personal watercraft business, whose motto is ‘faster than factory,’ and has an impressive track record; since his first competitive outing in Marco Island, Florida in 1987 MacClugage has enjoyed and an unprecedented run of success, winning 18 World and 15 US National Championships. He has won Thailand King’s Cup three times, the Japanese and European Indoor Championships twice and won the World famous Karujet in 2004.
If the stars and stripes are to fly successfully over the UIM-ABP tour, MacClugage first has to face and overcome the likes of defending World Champion Mickael Poret, 2013 European Champion Tiago Sousa and Italy’s multiple title holder Alberto Monti.
In the sport’s Blue Riband category Runabout GP1, Kuwait’s reigning World Champion Yousef Al Abdulrazzaq will face intense competition as he reignites his duel with last year’s runner-up and 12-time World Champion from France, Cyrille Lemoine.
Abdulrazzaq and Lemoine enjoyed a titanic fight for supremacy last year with the outcome decided in the very last race of the season and both will remember what happened in Qatar last season.
The Kuwaiti star was unbeaten and led the standings but it all changed in Doha after a breakdown and a DQ, with Lemoine taking full advantage to win both heats, the GP title and hit the front in the overall standings. The title race turned again in Abu Dhabi, this time Lemoine stopping with Abdulrazzaq going on to lift the title.
Lemoine has a good record in Doha, finishing second overall in 2011 and winning for the last two years as well as picking up the Slalom title last time out, and will be hoping to keep his winning streak in Qatar going and take an early Championship lead.
Chasing both will be a trio of Lemoine’s countrymen, 2012 World Champion Francois Medori, 2011 Karujet winner and 2009 World Champion Teddy Pons and the 2013 UIM-ABP World Ranking points leader Jeremy Perez.
Of the five fancied riders Medori is the only one not on a Sea-Doo/Rotax machine but will be hoping that with a year under his belt to dial in his new bike he can be more competitive and improve on just one top three finish and fourth overall in 2013.
Hoping to go one better in both heats than he did last year in Qatar will be Grand Prix runner-up Italy’s Mattia Fracasso, who just edged out Jeremy Perez, with Pons looking for a 100% improvement after failing to finish twice.
Others to keep an eye on to get in the mix for good points finishes are Poland’s Andrzej Wisniewski and Spain’s Jordi Thomas jimenez who finished fifth and sixth respectively overall last season.
At this stage it looks like a new Champion will be crowned in Ski Ladies with Champion Pija Sumer missing from the line-up to focus on her medical studies, with last year’s runner-up Marta Sorrentino from Italy joined by France’s Jennifer Menard and 17 year-old Estelle Poret and Japanese rider Yuki.
The action gets underway with practice and two qualifying sessions on Thursday [6 March] followed by heats 1 and 2 on Friday and Saturday.