Dubai: Team Sweden’s Erik Stark denied UAE boats an upper hand during the Pole Position run for Sunday’s Grand Prix of Harbin — the third round of the 2017 UIM F1H2O World Championship — being held in China.
Stark, the four-time F2 World Champion, clocked the best lap time of 40.65 seconds on a generously straight course set on the Hulan Estuary Wetland Circuit. Giving him chase was a trio of drivers from UAE teams led by Team Abu Dhabi’s Thani Al Qamzi (40.78) and the Victory Team pairing of Ahmad Al Hameli (40.83) and Shaun Torrente (41.23).
Three-time defending F1 world champion Philippe Chiappe of the CTIC F1 Shenzhen China Team will start off from fifth after he had recorded a best lap of 41.36 seconds in the shoot-out, while early leader in the drivers’ championship Sami Selio from the Mad Croc Baba Racing team will turn up sixth on the grid despite not starting the shoot-out. Team Abu Dhabi’s Alex Carella who recorded a best lap of 42.30 seconds in the second stage of qualifying will start from seventh.
After the opening two rounds, the race for the drivers’ title is shaping up well with just one point separating Mad Croc Baba Racing’s Selio with 30 points from and Team Abu Dhabi’s Carella, while three-time defending champion Frenchman Chiappe is lying in third with 20 points.
Al Qamzi was pleased with a strong second position on the start grid after having gone without a win for the past 20 races. “It is always a proud moment to see the UAE flag flying. I am pleased that all my hard work has started to pay off,” Al Qamzi said.
“The idea tomorrow [Sunday] is to push hard from the start and see how the boat responds so that we can end our time in the wilderness,” he added.
His teammate Carella was surprised that his time was not considered by race organisers. “I was supposed to be with the second best qualifying time. Tomorrow we need to make a strong start and see how much we can gain while gunning for the front,” the Italian driver said.
The Victory Team pair of Torrente and Al Hameli who are currently in fifth and sixth in the overall standings have been showing promising runs to challenge for the top spots. Torrente took pole in Portimao and then led the race for ten laps before retiring, while Al Hameli showed too much pace before crashing out.
So starting in third position is indeed a welcome moment for the man in blue. “I am very happy to finish in the top three in qualifying because it was tough out there today. There are at least ten boats that are very quick this season, so even a small error can make a lot of difference,” Al Hameli said.
“The time difference between the top boats is negligible and that makes qualifying even tougher. A third place on the grid makes things easier for me for the main race. I wish I can have some good luck so that I can continue getting points and keep up the pressure on the leaders. Being third in the championship is a big thing for us, but our place is always to aim for the top,” he insisted.
On Sunday, there will be a final practice session at 5.45am (UAE time) followed by the Grand Prix of Harbin starting at 10am.