Monday, 18 November: Over the years historic battles for the world title on Sharjah’s picturesque Khalid Lagoon have littered the history books and this year, as the Emirate celebrates hosting its 20th UIM F1H2O Grand Prix weekend on 18-21 December, will be no different with Shaun Torrente and Jonas Andersson going head-to-head and just five points the difference .
The first title match-up dates back to 2004 when two multi-time world champions were locked in battle. It was American Scott Gillman outlasting Italian Guido Cappellini, who earned pole position, only to break down early in the event giving the California driver his third of four World titles.
Finnish star Sami Selio's miracle come-from-behind back-to-back victories in the Emirates propelled him to his first of two world titles from Hall-of-Fame driver Cappellini in 2007, three years later, the Finnish star came from behind once again to win the title over American and 2008 world champion Jay Price, out-dueling the New Orleans native by finishing on the podium in second, while Price could only finish sixth, and taking his second title by just six points.
In 2011, Qatar teammates were first and second in the championship with Jay Price once again in the title mix pushing his young Italian colleague Alex Carella for another chance for glory. The veteran Louisiana driver had a bad start, fell behind Carella and crashed into the second year driver forcing both out of the race and handing the 26-year-old Carella his first of four world titles.
Two years later another American, Shaun Torrente, held a two point margin in the championship standings only to lose it all finishing third while his teammate Carella once again came home with the title after winning the race making it his third straight year at the top of the drivers’ championship.
In 2014 the drama was at a fever pitch when three drivers were within six points of each other for a world title with teammates Alex Carella and Shaun Torrente driving for the Qatar organization nipping at the heels of Frenchmen Philippe Chiappe who was searching for his first title.
Chiappe, a veteran driver, needed a victory after winning the weekend before in Abu Dhabi. The pressure was intense but Chiappe used his business savvy and coolly came home with his first of three back-to-back world titles with a victory that day.
Arguably the most dramatic and historic victory on the modern UIM F1H2O World Championship tour came on the Khalid Lagoon in 2015 when Norway’s Marit Stromoy made history in her 60th career start in her eighth season of racing on the tour winning for the first time as she charged up from fourth off the dock and capturing the victory.
A year ago it was all about Team Abu Dhabi and its three star drivers who locked out the top-three positions; Shaun Torrente was leading the championship, but only by three points over Thani Al Qemzi, Erik Stark a further nine points adrift.
Stark did everything correctly leading into the race, grabbing pole position and eventually winning the event, only to fall four points short at the end of the race weekend in the championship chase, Al Qemzi’s retirement ending his bid, Torrente’s third place enough to seal the deal.
This year will mark the 20th Grand Prix along the outskirts of the Gulf with nine different active drivers in the field having won there before, making for what should be a spine tingling finish to the season.
There have been five different winners in the last five years and both Torrente and Andersson have a history of great results in Sharjah, Torrente finishing on the podium in four of the last five years, while Andersson has finished runner-up in the last two races on the lagoon.
So will it be Torrente making it back-to-back titles? Or will Andersson come from behind and capture world championship glory for the first time in his long career?
(Words: Steve Michael)