Arif al Zafeen and Nadir bin Hendi, the reigning world champions, laid down an early marker in the UIM Class 1 World Powerboat Championship by posting the fastest time yesterday in the first official practice for the Grand Prix of Abu Dhabi. The Victory Team crew set the pace and mastered the tricky conditions and gusting winds across the course in front of the Abu Dhabi Corniche to post a time of 2mins 58.26secs, the fastest of the afternoon.
They were the only team to break the three-minute mark and their time was four seconds clear of their rivals.
Less than two seconds separated the next four teams in their wake, with Team Abu Dhabi driver Rashed al Tayer - Race 1 winner in Abu Dhabi last year - the second fastest with a time of 3mins 02.20secs.
John Tomlinson, his regular throttleman, did not arrive in the country until last night so he went out with XCat throttleman Majid Al Mansouri.
The stand-out performance of the afternoon belonged to Ugur Isik and Christian Zaborowski.
Racing together for the first time, and marking Isik's return to racing in Class 1 for the first time in over a decade, the Relekta crew got quicker by the lap to go third fastest in 3mins 02.05secs.
Having spent the past two weeks in Abu Dhabi all but rebuilding their two boats, the Spirit of Qatar Team made an understandably measured return to the championship. Sheikh Hassan bin Jabor al Thani and Steve Curtis posted the fourth fastest time of 3mins 03.20secs, with Class 1 newcomer Ali al Neama and Matteo Nicolini, sixth in 3mins 05.18secs.
With their new Outerlimits boat in Italy, Fendi Racing's Luca Formilli Fendi and Giovanni Carpitella, running the Victory boat that ironically took them out of Race 2 here last year, split the Qatar boats.
Maintaining their partnership that closed-out the 2010 season but switching roles, with Nicolo Giorgi taking the wheel and Tomaso Polli on the throttles, the MITI pairing finished seventh ahead of Parsonage Racing's new pairing, Giorgio Manuzzi and Pal Virik Nilsen.
It was a frustrating afternoon for Poliform and Welmax with both teams sidelined with technical problems.
Ten rival boats are taking part in the first two rounds of the world championships, which take place today and tomorrow on a course off Lulu Island.