The Emirati's UIM World Championship dream is over and Jay Price leads the race for the title as Mad Croc's Selio seals victory in Abu Dhabi.
Thani al Qamzi's hopes sunk in capital
ABU DHABI // As the sun yesterday sank towards the horizon, Thani al Qamzi, the Team Abu Dhabi powerboat pilot, saw his hopes of winning a first UIM World Championship fade to black on home waters.
The Emirati started the UAE capital's grand prix - the penultimate race of the Formula One H2O season - 19 points behind Jay Price, the American leader.
Victory would be worth 20 points, and al Qamzi knew that practically nothing other than the top place on the podium would do.
He finished third, with Price in second and Sami Selio, the Finnish driver with Team Mad Croc, victorious for only the second time in 2010. It was also his second career win in Abu Dhabi.
The result means, with Price narrowly leading Selio in the championship, the title will be decided in Sharjah next week.
Al Qamzi, having finished Friday's qualifying sixth-fastest from a field of 10, needed a strong start and was helped by teammate Ahmed al Hameli - recently crowned king of the UIM Pole Position Championship - starting the race ahead of him in fourth.
When the green flag waved, signalling the start of the 36-lap race off the coast of the capital's Corniche, both Team Abu Dhabi drivers capitalised on their boats' superior acceleration - up to 160kph in four seconds - to steal ahead of Alex Carella and Jonas Andersson to position themselves in third (al Hameli) and fourth (al Qamzi).
Here they stayed for the entire race before, on the final lap, the pair swapped positions, allowing al Qamzi to take to the podium and strengthen his place in the title standings.
Suggestions of team orders were rife, but Scott Gillman, Team Abu Dhabi's Californian coach, ruled it out, adding that al Hameli had experienced technical issues.
Said al Qamzi: "In the last part of the race, Ahmed had problems with his power-steering; he could not control the boat and I managed to pass him."
The race was peppered with yellow flags following a series of engine malfunctions, but it was a potentially fatal crash in the 24th lap involving Marco Gambi, the Singha F1 Racing Team driver, and Andy Elliot, Price's partner at Team Qatar, that had the couple of thousand spectators craning their necks.
Approaching the final turn of the 2.6km circuit, Gambi, of Italy, tried to sneak in front of Elliot, a Briton. But the space was too tight and as Elliot turned sharply to round the buoy, Gambi's twin-hull catamaran flew into the side of the Team Qatar boat before flipping in the air and landing with the cockpit submerged in the water.
Commendably, the rescue team was at the scene within seconds while the boat's airbag safety device pushed the front end of the boat into the sky, removing the driver from danger. Gambi was later seen being transported back to the dock with a sheepish smile adorning his face. "The accident really shows how far the safety of these boats have come," said Jonathan Jones, a former powerboats world champion. "Fifty years ago we would have lost Gambi following an accident like that."
When the pace boat - the marine equivalent to a motorsport safety car - was removed, the race continued and al Hameli began to push Price for second place, but the veteran American driver held off the Emirati. Selio, meanwhile, never looked like losing his lead.
As the final lap was completed and the Team Abu Dhabi drivers swapped positions, Selio and Price turned their focus to next weekend's final race in Sharjah.
Price now leads the championship by four points, but if Selio wins on Friday, he will secure his second world title by a single point.
"It was a beautiful day and I am very proud," Selio said. "It is a great win because we have closed the gap on the world championship and it means the pressure is not so high for the next race. It is important for the championship to go to the final race and that is what has happened."
In contrast, Price said the pressure on him has been increased.
"We are fighting for the same title until the end of the season, so I feel a lot of pressure," he said. "It is a competition between Sami and me now, so the gloves are off. Let's see what the last race will bring us."
Driver Team Time
1. Sami Selio Mad Croc
2. Jay Price Qatar 1.69secs behind
3. Thani al Qamzi Abu Dhabi 9.64secs behind
4. Ahmed al Hameli Abu Dhabi 16.57secs behind
5. Phillipe Chiappe CTIC China 21.91secs behind
6. Pierre Lundin CTIC China 26.08secs behind
7. Fabio Comparato 800 Doctor 1 lap behind
8. Marit Stromoy Azerbaijan 1 lap behind
9. Davide Padovan Rainbow 1 lap behind
10. Tomas Cermak Nautica 2 laps behind
11. Rinaldo Osculati Nautica 2 laps behind
Driver Team Points
1. Price Qatar F1 83
2. Selio Mad Croc 79
3. Al Qamzi Abu Dhabi 61
4. Cantando Singha 59
4. Carella Mad Croc 59
6. Al Hameli Abu Dhabi 38
6. Lundin CTIC China 38
8. Chiappe CTIC China 26
9. Comparato 800 Doctor 17
10. Seebold Skydive Dubai 16