Written by Neil Perkins
When His Excellency Sheikh Hassan Bin Jabor Al-Thani burst onto the Class 1 offshore power-boat racing scene in 2003, he had no idea that the State of Qatar would become one of the most prominent nations in world powerboating within seven years.
Not only has Sheikh Hassan won two Class 1 Grands Prix and taken numerous pole positions in his short racing career, but the Qatar Team clinched the UIM F1 Championship title in 2008 and is handily placed to win the series for a second time in 2010.
The Qatar Marine Sports Federation (QMSF) is also active in F2, F4, jet-ski racing, pleasure-boat racing, and now hosts an annual round of the F1 series, in addition to a new event in the prestigious H1 Unlimited Hydroplane racing calendar.
November traditionally brings powerboating fever to the shores of Doha Bay, but the QMSF’s active involvement in numerous water sporting disciplines, both at home and overseas, is largely down to the foresight and hard work of QMSF staff under the presidency of Sheikh Hassan.
“I am proud of what we have achieved so far,” enthuses Sheikh Hassan. “We had a vision to get the QMSF known worldwide and, if you look since the start of 2003, we are almost adding one new series to our calendar each season, where we think we can add weight to the reputation of Qatar and the QMSF across the globe.
“I have a dedicated team that work for the QMSF and they are the key to our ongoing success. None of us likes to finish second, and that winning instinct is part of our make-up. We are always open to the media wherever we go and are fully aware that we carry the image of Qatar globally.” The thrilling sport of Unlimited Hydroplane racing is a product of the USA and had never been exported to other parts of the world until Sheikh Hassan began discussions with American Boat Racing Association (ABRA) chairman Sam Cole and his colleagues about the possibility of bringing the sport to the State of Qatar.
The renamed H1 Unlimited series was duly launched at a press conference on Doha Corniche in November 2009, but discussions and planning had been in progress for over a year.
“Hydroplane racing was a selected target sport to be invited to Qatar in 2009 as part of our ongoing sport plan,” adds Sheikh Hassan. “We kept looking at the sport from a distance, as the Ellstrom team was the official propeller supplier for our ‘Spirit of Qatar’ racing team. The sport had gained momentum each year in the United States and that was the trigger for us to start communications with ABRA in 2008.”
Cole visited a race organised by the QMSF in Doha Bay and discussions progressed between the two parties. The decision was duly taken for Qatar to host the final round of the H1 Unlimited series in 2009, and the QMSF will host the final round again this month.
But Sheikh Hassan had a vision of putting Qatar and the QMSF firmly on the H1 racing map and announced before the start of the 2010 season that Qatar would become the title sponsor of the Ellstrom Racing entry in the 2010 H1 Unlimited Championship, and that Dave Villwock’s potent hydroplane would be known as U-96 Spirit of Qatar.
“We had a huge response from the locals to enter the H1 series, but we couldn’t look for any better option than to join hands with the Ellstrom Racing team. I suppose it’s a win-win situation, because we work together on the propeller programme for the Qatar offshore team and now we are partners in H1.
“Ellstrom Racing is a team with a fine reputation. It has excellent organisation and supplies most, if not all, of the propellers to the rest of the H1 racing boats. So, they have the reputation and the infrastructure and I felt they could best represent Qatar and the QMSF in the sport.”
While local interest will centre around Dave Villwock at the helm of U-96 Spirit of Qatar in the Oryx Cup this month, the Qatar team is also attempting to regain the UIM F1 World Championship title it won comfortably in 2008.
Jay Price and Andy Elliott represent the QMSF in F1 racing and Price is well placed to challenge for Qatar’s second world title. The Qatar Grand Prix in Doha Bay on Saturday, November 27 will be crucial.
“Under the management of Khalid Al-Kuwari and our team at the QMSF, Jay has done a fantastic job of putting Qatar on the F1 map,” enthuses Sheikh Hassan, who admits that reintroducing Qatari drivers to the echelon of single-seater racing is paramount to the QMSF. “We have two Qataris set to join the F4 category from China onwards and we will start our F2 programme early in 2011, so we are on track to introduce new faces to the sport.
“Qatar and the UAE have led the way for Middle East nations in powerboat racing, but I would like to see Bahrain, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia enter any class of racing that the UIM holds and to see more strong competition on a regional level.
“I don’t think I will continue racing personally for too long, but we have exciting times ahead at the QMSF. Our domestic season is already under way. We have five closed course jet-ski races, a marathon race, and three jet-ski drag races, which are the first of their kind in Qatar and the region. We also have a new class for pleasure-boat racing – called the Pro class – and, of course, we have the Oryx Cup and the Qatar Grand Prix this month.”
Timetable of QMSF events – November 2010
Oryx Cup – H1 Unlimited World Championship, final round
|November 18||Technical scrutineering and administration, Doha Bay|
|November 19||Testing and qualifying heats, Doha Bay|
|November 20||Qualifying heats and Oryx Cup, Doha Bay|
Qatar Grand Prix, UIM F1 World Championship, round 6 of 8
|November 25||Technical scrutineering and administration, Doha Bay|
|November 26||Free practice and time trials, Doha Bay|
|November 27||Qatar Grand Prix, Doha Bay|
For further information, contact the QMSF
U-96 Spirit of Qatar
Driver: Dave Villwock
Max speed: 350kph
Build: Tunnel-hull catamaran with wing-shaped front design
Power: Lycoming T-55/L-7C turbine engine (ex-Chinook helicopter engine)
Race format: Boats run in three sets of heats and then final shoot-out race
Team Qatar 16
Driver: Jay Price
Max speed: 240kph
Build: Tunnel-hull catamaran
Power: Mercury marine V6, 425bhp @ 10,500rpm
Race format: A maximum of 24 boats race for no more than 45 minutes
Team Qatar 63
Driver: Khaled Saleh Al-Shamlan
Max speed: 230kph
Build: Tunnel-hull catamaran
Power: Mercury marine, 400 bhp
Race format: Ten boats race in a pair of 20-minute races
Spirit of Qatar 96
Driver/co-driver: H.E. Sheikh Hassan bin Jabor Al-Thani/Steve Curtis MBE?Max speed: 300kph
Build: Tunnel-hull catamaran with two-man crew
Power: 2 x Skema 8.2-litre V12 engines, 900hp per engine (approx).
Race format: Boats race in OPA Supercat category over designated course and set number of laps depending upon course length. In C1, boats race over a 55–75nm distance
Qatar Airways, world’s 5-star airline, flies to more than 130 destinations worldwide.