We have over the past decade witnessed the unfortunate steady decline of the UIM World Class1 Series, and whilst various promoters have attempted to make the premier league of international offshore powerboat racing into a prestigious event none have achieved what they set out to do.
Whilst Turkey’s Urgar Isik purchased the series for the price of a hamburger, Norwegian millionaire Bjorn Gjelsten had the funds to promote the series properly but lacked experience, and the last to ‘give it a go’, F1h2o promoter Nicolo di San Germano has the experience and the funds, but soon became disillusioned with un-cooperative teams and the demands of the UIM. After blowing a small fortune Di San Germano said “Enough is enough”, and with no one to step into his shoes the UIM Class 1 Series came to an abrupt end in the middle of the 2016 season.
The most successful promoter of recent times was the late Mauro Ravenna who established a healthy fleet of genuine Class One craft but it appeared funds were not re-invested properly and his series came to a grinding halt through lack of money.
After speaking to Thomas Kirth, UIM General Secretary recently, he assured me Class 1 will be resurrected again, but in what form he was still uncertain. It is hoped the UIM, who don’t have any hands on experience of running a powerboat series even though they are the governing body who oversee all aspects of racing, don’t attempt to do it themselves. After a few discussions with both Kirth and UIM President Chuilli in recent times, it’s clear they are both keen to see the Series up and running, but apart from a few meetings with various interested parties, very little else has happened. The potential to promote the most spectacular motorsport in the world is there for the taking, but it does come with a heavy price tag.
Luca Fendi and Giovanni Carpitella
Unfortunately, many of the team owners in Class 1 who have participated in the past seemed to have been on expensive ego trips and didn’t like the UIM getting too involved. Setting up a successful Class 1 outfit is a costly enterprise even for Dubai’s incredibly successful two boat team which was sponsored in part by the UAE. They regarded it as a business venture and invested heavily to promote their city and the UAE. Their two Class 1 Victory cats achieved outstanding results throughout the last 2 decades, and it seemed at the time every project Victory tried their hand at turned to gold. Their Class 2 cats were unbeatable, and in later years their XCats were winning all the silverware too. Dubai have decided to withdraw from the XCat series preferring to concentrate on Formula 1 and Class 1 when it returns.
Before Class 1 is resurrected, it is imperative that a suitable promoter or a consortium of experienced promoters take on the series and they will need to have the respect and cooperation of the team owners. With only four or five teams taking part and each one having their own agenda there is bound to be some discord, but with eighteen to twenty teams involved promoters would have more clout and able to keep control.
It’s fair to say, the USA have the whip hand in terms of ‘big boat’ racing and John Carbonell’s SBI (Superboat International) has a decent track record of survival, although he might not be the most popular fish in the tank he does have the respect of those taking part, and Key West has become the household name in global offshore racing although it is a very tight circuit for Class 1 boats. The USA is the market leader in ‘heavy metal’ powerplants with Mercury leading the way although a new Class 1 Series would be under no obligation to use US built power. Victory have a successful record with their own version of Lamborghini V12’s and Australia’s Maritimo fit their own version of V8’s.
Maritimo, the best from Australia
To make the UIM World Class 1 a truly international series teams from around the world have to be part of the programme and in significant numbers. The USA could enter at least five Class 1 (Superboat Limited) cats, including Wake Effects and Geico, while Victory and Abu Dhabi have two competitive Class 1 cats each. Australia has two cats from the Maritimo stable, while Italy could also guarantee at least two with the Luca Fendi fleet. Zabo from Norway has been a strong contender in Class 1 for the last 5 years, and has raced in the American SBI series. We have singled out fourteen ‘possibles’ so a twenty strong Class 1 fleet is very doable with contenders from New Zealand and possibly Qatar likely to be interested too.
Choice of venue or venues will be a major consideration and almost every option will be open for debate, but it is doubtful that anything will happen with a large financial investment required. A three race programme in one location is the cheaper option whereas a more costly grand prix series gives more spectators the chance to view these ‘ocean greyhounds’ in action.
Where will the funds come from? Each team could pay a very large entry fee for a grand prix series and each venue would also invest cash from their tourist/marketing budget. Obviously, each team and venue would pay a lesser amount to stage a single event at one location. Therefore, it would seem inevitable that before an engine is fired up in anger the championship format could produce the first clash of opinions.
Zabo from Norway
I have followed offshore powerboat racing since the late 1980s and have marvelled at the spectacle of the rolling start and the sound of forty open exhausts from twenty V8/V12s is a sound you will never hear in any other motor sport. Unfortunately, it is a minority sport and not the easiest to televise, although Peter Butler achieved some superb viewing figures when it was televised on Satelite TV during the mid 2000’s, so it is possible.
Sadly, I’ve also witnessed its gradual demise, and it was heartbreaking to watch the fleet of just five Class 1 cats struggle around the small Abu Dhabi circuit two years ago. These boats were built to race in open waters where the skill of driver and navigator come to the fore as they touch speeds of up to 150mph. In the right hands a UIM World Class 1 Series can be relaunched and hopefully it will reclaim its rightful place as the ‘Flagship’ of Offshore Powerboat Racing.