For a surprisingly large number of people in the paddock at the UIM F1H2O Grand Prix of India, it may seem like yesterday, but actually it will be 14 years and 99 Grand Prix since the series last raced in this exotic and engaging country.
The series’ first dipped its toe into the Arabian Sea in the month of March in the giant city of Mumbai kicking off the 2004 season. Despite the calendar registering that it was still technically winter, race time temperatures were over 32 centigrade (90F), and despite the heat, tens-of-thousands gathered along the city esplanade to watch 23 drivers from 12 nations tackle a short and very technical circuit. When the UIM F1H2O World Championship race was concluded that early afternoon, Italian Francesco Cantando had charged from fourth on the grid out-dueling two Hall-of-Fame drivers in fellow Italian Guido Cappellini and American Scott Gillman, to win his 10th career Grand Prix.
2004 podium in Mumbai – Guido Cappellini, Francesco Cantando and Laith Pharoan in third
It would be the Milan native son’s only victory of that season and oddly enough since that moment the Italian has taken victory in just two more events in his last 101 starts. Cantando will be hungry for a repeat in Amaravati as he races in his record breaking 173rd Grand Prix in his 22nd racing season in F1H2O.
Winner of the 2004 Mumbai Grand Prix Francesco Cantando
Also interesting, is the fact that six drivers in the Grand Prix of Amaravati are back racing 14 years later and each having their own unique story on how they got from India’s first event to this in 2018 and the 35th year of F1H2O racing.
Current world points leading driver Thani Al Qemzi with Team Abu Dhabi, who holds a single point advantage on his Swedish teammate Erik Stark and two points clear of his other teammate American Shaun Torrente with 52, is hoping to do better than he did in Mumbai so many full moons ago when he qualified 18th and finished eighth. He is looking for his first victory since Sharjah in 2012 which is 28 races ago while maintaining his current lead in the championship.
Meanwhile, the driver that has been the most successful of the six who last raced in India back in 2004 is Frenchman Philippe Chiappe. The native of Rouen, who despite starting last in Mumbai and finished a lowly 13th that day years ago, has since gone on to become a three-time World Champion having won a total of nine races in his 16th season as he drives for the CTIC F1 Shenzhen China Team.
Chiappe hasn’t won in the last five races and being 20 points behind in the championship standings will be needing a maximum result in his second start in India if he wants any hope of grabbing a fourth title.
Speaking of titles, Finnish driver Sami Selio, a two-time World Champion in his own right and who qualified third and finished fourth in India in 2004, is hoping to use this race as a launching pad in turning his luck around in what so far is a less than memorable season.
Selio has started just three of four events and finished just one race taking a fifth place at the Grand Prix of London back in June. The likeable driver from Helsinki, whose nickname is the ‘Finnish Flyer’, has gone 11 straight races without a win dating back to his last victory in Harbin, China in 2016 and is due for a big time result!
Another French driver, Cedric Deguisne, leading the Maverick F1 Racing group, has returned to the series full time after walking away for over a decade and is now in his third season and ready to start in his 23rd event. When Cedric last raced in Mumbai it was his baptism into the world of F1H2O racing, qualifying 14th but failing to finish the Grand Prix and classified in 16th position. The second generation driver was one of four drivers making their career debuts [in F1H2O] that weekend and is the only one of the four still racing in the series.
Portugal’s Duarte Benavente, one of the truly dedicated racers in the sport, is starting his 140th Grand Prix in Amaravati and back in India for a second time looking both for points and to better his 17th place the first time around. In 139 previous starts the F1 Atlantic Team leader has six podium appearances as he chases his first career F1H2O victory.
Benavente’s teammate, Grant Trask from Australia, is a second generation driver following both his father Bob and his uncle Dave who raced in Mumbai. For Bob and Dave they made history that weekend by becoming the first brothers to finish in the points in an F1H2O race coming home in ninth and tenth positions.
Other participants of the original race in India, who are still very much an influence in the sport include Philippe Dessertenne of France who finished fifth and now is the racing Team Manager for CTIC F1 Shenzhen China and steering his friend Philippe Chiappe to all three of his world titles. Also Italian Massimo Roggiero, who finished sixth in Mumbai and is now known as one of the best race boat builders in the world today. He works closely with the Mad Croc BABA Racing outfit that is led by driver Sami Selio along with young team mate Filip Roms.
Italian Fabio Comparato, who would finish last with mechanical issues in Mumbai would go on later that year and win in Malaysia. Currently, he helps his talented son who is a tremendous F2 driver as well as being a head mechanic with the Emirates Team in helping both Marit Stromoy of Norway and Poland’s Bartek Marszalek in their dreams of winning their first F1H2O title.
But the biggest rivalry, one that has been heating up for the past 21 years and will continue in Amaravati, is between Scott Gillman and his Italian counterpart Guido Cappellini. Both drivers, multi-time World Champions, started their drama back when the American Gillman joined the series in 1997 to challenge Cappellini who had won four titles in a row.
Guido Cappellini came in 2nd at the 2004 Mumbai Grand Prix
Gillman easily won the title as a rookie and for the next 11 seasons would do battle on the water with Cappellini. Cappellini went on winning six times and Gillman fighting back with three before the California driver was forced to retire because of health reasons in the middle of the 2007 season while leading the championship. Now, both retired from racing, Cappellini leads Team Abu Dhabi with the ultimate in professionalism and his three current drivers are holding down the top three spots in the drivers’ championship coming into Amaravati. Gillman counters with the rival Victory Team out of Dubai, longtime protagonists in offshore and inshore racing, but is fighting an uphill battle this season with his drivers in four-time World Champion Alex Carella of Italy mired down in 10th position in the championship with Ahmed Al Hameli from the Emirates in sixth.
Scott Gillman racing for Emirates in 2004
So, truth be told, there are a myriad of hidden stories throughout the paddock in the UIM F1 H2O World Championship series at this the 277th race edition of the grand 35 year history of the sport. With three very talented and gifted drivers within two points of each other at the top of the ledger we should expect to see another history shaking long-remembered saga in this wonderful worldwide international racing Grand Prix production!
Enjoy all the drama that goes with the 2018 UIM F1H2O Grand Prix of India!
Report: Steve Michael