Class 1 World Powerboat Championship
||The neutrality of this article is disputed. (April 2012)|
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|Drivers||22 (two per boat/driver-throttleman)|
|Constructors||DAC, Maritimo, MTI, Outerlimits, Victory|
|Engine suppliers||Mercury, Outerlimits, SCAM, SKEMA, Victory|
|Drivers' champion||Arif Al Zafeen (Uae) / Mohammed Al Marri (Uae) Victory Team|
Class 1, referred to officially as the UIM Class 1 World Powerboat Championship, is widely regarded as the pinnacle of international offshore powerboat racing, and is officially sanctioned by the Monaco based Union Internationale Motonautique (UIM), the world governing body of powerboating. Class 1 races run under a set of rules which are agreed by the Offshore Professional Committee (OPC), which are ratified and issued by the UIM, and by which all teams, participants and raceboats must comply.
A Class 1 season consists of a series Grands Prix, made up of three official practice sessions, one official qualifying session which is also known as Pole Position and two races. The results of each race are combined to determine the winner of the World Championship, the European Championship and the Middle East Championship are defined by specific events in those geographic regions.
The results in official qualifying determine the winner of the Pole Position Championship. Eight races at four Grand Prix make up the 2012 calendar with races in Qatar, Gabon, Italy and Dubai. Class 1 race circuits are run on a variety of different waters from offshore open water to Fjords and lakes. Twenty drivers from Italy, Monaco, Norway, Qatar, Turkey, UAE, UK and the USA, nine teams and 10 boats will contest the 2011 Championships.
Class 1 is considered one of the most spectacular motorsports in the world. A Class 1 raceboat is twin-engined and can reach speeds in excess of 257 km/h (160 mph), with V12 engines limited in performance to 850 hp at 7600 rpm and V8 engines limited in performance to 850 hp at 6100 rpm. All boats are limited by a minimum weight of 4950 kg.
While a Class 1 raceboat is highly technical and state-of-the-art, and its overall performance is dependent on design, aero and hydro dynamics, choice of propeller and gear ratio selection, the relationship between driver and throttleman, who navigate and control the power, must provide direct input to adjust trim and drive settings during a race or official qualifying, is ultimately the defining factor and crucial to performance.
The sport of powerboat racing has undergone unprecedented change since early records of a race in 1887 in Nice, France, organized by the Paris Sailing Club. The French also claimed the next two recorded races in 1903, a 62-mile race in Meulan on the River Seine organized by the Poissy Sailing Club and a 230-mile race from Paris to Trouville. But the first officially recognized international offshore powerboat race was a 22-mile event from Calais, France to Dover, England.
But the modern-era of offshore powerboat racing was kick-started on 6 May 1956 with the first running of the famous Miami-Nassau race, which would ultimately lead to the introduction of the Sam Griffith Memorial Trophy and a UIM sanctioned World Championship in 1964. From 1964 to 1976 the winner of the World Championship was decided by points gained from multiple races held at venues around the world. From 1977 to 1991 the winner was decided by series of races at a single event at the end of the year. The World Championship reverted to a multi-event format in 1992.
H2O Racing is the officially sanctioned promoter and worldwide television and commercial rights holder of the UIM Class 1 World Powerboat Championship. H2O Racing is a sports management company set up by Nicolò di San Germano to promote and organise World Championship events in powerboating.
The company was launched in January 2011 and brings together a group of professionals with over 30 years of experience in sports and event management to collectively manage all commercial and marketing activities across four Union Internationale Motonautique (UIM) sanctioned properties; the F1H2O and Class 1 World Powerboat Championships, the Aquabike and Rally Jet World Championships and the inaugural F1H2O Nations Cup.
President: Nicolò di San Germano
The fabled Miami-Nassau races were hailed as the ‘the world’s most rugged ocean races’ and brought powerboat racing to the attention of the general public and signaled the beginning of modern offshore racing. These races also provided the sport with its first hero – Sam L. Griffith.
The first Miami-Nassau race, run on 6 May 1956 was the brainchild of American race car promoter Capt. Sherman ‘Red’ Crise and yacht designer, "Dick" Richard Bertram. Of the eleven intrepid pioneers who entered this now famous 184-mile race, eight went the distance to complete the race. The first boat home after nine hours 20 minutes, at an average speed of 19.7 mph, was the Griffith-Bertram entry, Doodles II, a 34 ft wooden Chris Craft with two 215 hp Cadillac Crusader engines.
Griffith was a larger than life character who made the sport his own in those early years. He was regarded as ‘the man’ and before his untimely death in 1963 he would win four Miami-Nassau races, break Gar Wood’s 41-year-old Miami-New York powerboat record and capture the Around Long Island Marathon. Many have since sought to emulate his skills and when Class 1 came of age in 1964 with a UIM sanctioned World Drivers’ Championship it was his name that was selected to adorn the trophy that is today the sport’s biggest prize.
During the 1950s the Americans had the sport to themselves laying claim to the three major offshore races in existence, the Miami-Nassau, the Around Long Island Marathon and the Miami-Key West. But in the early 60s Europe entered the fray to challenge the Americans. Publisher Sir Max Aitken, inspired by the Miami-Nassau, established the Cowes-Torquay in the English Channel on August 19, 1961, with victory in the inaugural 179-mile race going to Tommy Sopwith in Thunderbolt.
A year later the Italians added their challenge with the staging of the 198-mile Viareggio-Bastia-Viareggio, which was won by an Italian ex-navy submarine commander, Attilio Petroni, in A’ Speranziella. Over the next thirty years an enduring struggle ensued between the three founding nations for racing supremacy.
In the 20 years following its recognition by the Union Internationale Motonautique (UIM) and the inception of the Sam Griffith Trophy in 1964, the Americans were at the forefront of the sport’s technological development.
Jim Wynne, Dick Bertram and Don Aronow led the way with the Daytona, Mercruiser and Aeromarine powerplants reigning supreme. During this period the Americans posted thirteen champions and the Italians six. Count Vincenzo Balestrieri Cosimelli, from Rome, Italy, was the first non-American to win the coveted trophy in 1968. Balestrieri repeated in 1970, winning his second title. Wally Franz, a Brazilian, won the title in 1975 with an American boat, engine, transmission and throttleman. In 1978 Italy’s Francesco Cosentino took the title in a boat designed by Don Shead and built on the Mediterranean at Viareggio, the spiritual home of Italian offshore powerboat racing, marking the first time that a Class 1 World Champion won the title in equipment not of American origin, nor assembled and tended by American engineers.
In the 1970s the pendulum swung to witness a period of European design dominance. Don Shead’s aluminum monohulls from Enfield, Italian manufacturers Picchiotti and CUV and the James Beard - Clive Curtis Cougar catamarans set the pace. The European resurgence was completed by the genius of Fabio Buzzi, whose quantum leap into Glass Reinforced Polymer (GRP) hulls, turbo-charged Aifo Iveco and Seatek diesel engines, and integral surface drive transmissions through his FB Corse concern proved unbeatable.
The decade of the 90s witnessed the emergence of the Michael Peters-designed, Tencara and Victory built hulls that dominated the honors lists with the American Sterling, the Italian Lamborghini petrol and the Seatek diesel engines sharing the power battle.
In 1992 the Championship reverted to a multi-event competition and in the following years the diversity of nationalities claiming the World Drivers’ Championship swelled in numbers including America, England, Italy, Monaco, Norway, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
Thirty three titles have been won by Americans, 19 by Italians, 15 by competitors from the UAE, eight by Britons, six by Norwegians, two by competitors from Monaco and Puerto Rico and one each by representatives from Brazil, Finland and Saudi Arabia. Five champions have taken their titles as novices in their first season in Class 1 racing and four driver/throttleman partnerships have managed back-to-back titles: Bonomi/Powers in 1973/1974, S Al Tayer/Serralles in 1995/1996, Gjelsten/Curtis in 2002/2003 and Al Zafeen/Bin Hendi in 2009/2010.
Gjelsten and Curtis are the only partnership to win the title five times - including the hat-trick 2002/2003/2004 - and Steve Curtis the only man to clinch the world title eight times. Nadir Bin Hendi is the only other racer to win a hat-trick of World titles. The world title was not awarded in 1990, as a mark of respect for Stefano Casiraghi who died while defending his title in Monaco.
Twenty-three titles have been won in monohulls and 24 in catamarans. Of these winning boats, 35 have been built in GRP, eight in aluminum and four in wood. Petrol engines have powered 40 winners and diesels the remaining seven.
Three early titles went to boats using conventional propeller shafts but the more efficient, fully trimable Mercruiser stern drives have accounted for twenty titles while the more recently introduced surface drives make up the remainder.
Propeller design has seen the early three-bladed bronze wheels superseded by stainless steel props of up to six blades for maximum efficiency and a top team might carry twelve pairs of props of differing pitches and diameters to accommodate differing sea conditions, fuel loads and handling characteristics.
Speeds have altered beyond all recognition. In the early 1960s, races were regularly won at averages of below 30 mph (48 km/h) but it was the advent of catamarans in the 1980s that allowed the magic barrier of 100 mph (160 km/h) to be regularly exceeded and now, winning averages of 125 mph (200 km/h) or more are not unusual.
This quest for speed has produced boats, engines and transmission systems which are more sophisticated and the use of Fibre Reinforced Polymer (FRP) with advanced composites using Kevlar and carbon fibre has made them safer.
The crews of yesteryear stood up to the elements as they struggled with navigation, throttles and the wheel, taking a battering from the elements with little protection. Today’s drivers and throttlemen enjoy the advantages of being strapped securely into body-hugging race seats within safety cells beneath lexan canopies borrowed from the aerospace industry, while monitoring their progress on equally advanced Global Positioning Systems (GPS).
Yesterday’s racers were amateur sportsmen and women, pioneers who looked the part. Today’s crews wear fireproof overalls, driving boots, have helmets plumbed with intercommunicating radios and compete in boats that only go afloat to test or race and are prepared and maintained by a crew of professional engineers. 
Weighing in at around 5 tonnes, each boat in the Class 1 fleet is approximately 12-14m in length, 3.5m wide, and constructed using composite materials.
Over the years, safety has become a key concern and today’s Class 1 boats are the safest they have ever been. The quest for speed has produced boats, engines and transmission systems which are inevitably more sophisticated, and the use of Fibre Reinforced Polymer(FRP) with advanced composites using kevlar and carbon fibre has made them safer.
Manufacturers Maritimo, MTI, Outerlimits, Tencara and Victory make up the fleet. All boats run petrol engines - Lamborghini-SKEMA or SCAM 8.2 liter V12s, Mercury or Outerlimits V8s, with the Victory Team running the Victory 8.2 liter V12.
Inside the cockpit, satellite GPS systems, trim indicators, engine data dashboards and instrument panels and warning lights keep the crew aware of the boat’s progress during a race.
The cockpit is reinforced to withstand enormous impacts that may occur if a boat crashes at speeds in excess of 150 mph, with an escape hatch in the hull as an added safety feature in the event of an accident.
Each boat has a two-man crew; the driver who navigates and steers the boat and a throttleman who dictates the speed and attitude, controlling the throttles and the trim.
It is a combination that requires total trust – imagine driving a car and the person beside you has control of the accelerator – and a close working relationship. Spectators may imagine that the crew simply jump into the cockpit, and it’s the guys who drive quickest that can win. A simple enough theory, but one that doesn’t take into account the skills and professionalism of pilots who regularly hurtle across the waves at over 160 mph/250kmh.
Both pilots work closely with their pit crews to determine the race set-up: the type of propeller required for the conditions, gear ratio settings’, the amount of fuel needed and race tactics. Propeller choice is critical and can win or lose not only a race, but also a championship.
Eight races at four venues make up the UIM Class 1 World Powerboat Championship, with races run over approximately 55 or 75 Nm of multiple laps of approx 5 Nm (including one or two mandatory long laps).
The World Championship is awarded to the team with the most accumulated points throughout the season. A winning crew collects 20 points, the runners-up 15, with the third-placed team awarded 12 points.
Other positions are awarded points on a sliding scale (9, 7, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1) to the tenth-placed finisher. Bonus points are also awarded - one point per engine – for running the same engines in race 2 for two consecutive Grand Prix.
A Grand Prix weekend is run over three days, with registration, technical scrutineering and the first practice session and driver briefings taking place on day one.
On day two a practice session is run in the morning, followed immediately by the Edox Pole Position (qualifying), also counting as a separate championship, and Race 1 in the afternoon.
The Edox Pole Position, like the practice sessions, is run over the Grand Prix course, giving the crews a further opportunity to familiarize themselves with circuits and conditions, and to decide on set-up. It acts as the qualifier for the line-up for Race 1, with the Pole-sitter (fastest time) lining-up closest to the official start boat. The Edox Pole Position lasts for 45 minutes, with teams having to complete a minimum of one timed lap and allowed to return to the wet pits to make adjustments to set-up, but limited to a total of 10 minutes under the crane.
On day three, a final practice session in the morning is followed in the afternoon by Race 2. Each race is started by a Nor-Tech 3600 supercat official pace boat, running at a controlled speed, which lead the boats from the wet pits and into a line-abreast under a yellow flag or amber flashing light, a green flag denoting the race start, with the finishing order of the Edox Pole Position dictating the line-up of the boats for Race 1 and the finishing order of Race 1, the start order for Race 2.
Each race consists of approximately 11-15 laps and is 55-75 Nm in length, including one or two mandatory long laps.