Thursday, 21 May, CASTRO (Italy): Fifty-seven competitors from 16 countries will line up in Castro on Italy’s picturesque south eastern Adriatic coast this weekend for the Grand Prix of Italy [22-24 May], round 2 of the UIM-ABP Aquabike World Championship, with the competition set to ratchet up another notch as the best-of-the-best lock horns and look to gain the upper hand in the title race.
Heading into round 2 France’s Jeremy Perez and Austria’ s Kevin Reiterer will be looking to try to repeat the success they both enjoyed last weekend, winning both heats in their respective categories, Runabout and Ski, in round 1 of the European Continental Championship.
Perez currently sits in second spot in the [Runabout] points table and heads up a strong French contingent, but the man for him and everyone to beat will be ‘history maker’ Thamer Al Darwish, who leads the title race after becoming the first Qatari to win a heat and GP title on the UIM-ABP tour, doing it at the season-opener in March on his home waters in Doha. “There is a little more pressure on me now after the win,” said Al Darwish. “I haven’t raced competitively since then but have done a lot of testing and I am aiming to try to repeat the win and keep the Championship lead in Castro.”
Joining Al Darwish is Qatar Teammate and world number five Mohammed Al Heidus, with Kuwaiti and former World Champion Yousef Al Abdulrazzaq and the UAE’s Khalifa Belselah adding to an impressive and formidable Middle East challenge.
Adding weight to the French bid for honours this weekend are Jean-Baptiste Botti and Francois Medori who completed a Corsican one-two in the Karujet in Guadeloupe in April, Botti sitting in third spot after winning heat 1 in Qatar, Medori in sixth with Didier Chabert in ninth.
Looking to get their title challenges back on track and make up lost points are defending World Champion Teddy Pons, and former Champions Cyrille Lemoine and Mattia Fracasso.
In Ski, Nacho Armillas and defending Champion Jeremy Poret share top spot, with Alex Barret in third but all are likely to face a strong challenge from Reiterer, who looked strong on his tour debut earlier in the year, and saw off Armillas and fourth placed Mickael Poret to win in Porec. “It is never easy when you are up against so many good riders,” said Armillas. “It looks as if we will have rough seas which can change things, but it is the same for everyone and for sure I expect to have a big battle with Jeremy and his brother [Mickael] and Kevin. We will see what happens.”
In Ski Ladies Marta Sorrentino carries the flag for Italy in a strong field of ten from seven countries, but she faces the daunting task of trying to upstage points’ leader, Sandra Fernandez, world number two Estelle Poret and defending Champion Jennifer Menard, and comes to Castro following operations on both arms.
The inter-Florjanic family duel between defending Champion Rok and younger brother Nac is set to continue, but it is Nac who currently leads the World Championship standings by four points, with Italy’s Roberto Mariani tasked with an enormous task of pulling off a surprise win.