Tuesday, February 21: Just over two months since Team Abu Dhabi’s Shaun Torrente secured a third world title in Sharjah, the 2023 UIM F1H2O World Championship fires into life with the Kopiko Grand Prix of Indonesia this weekend.
The series is visiting Indonesia for the first time – the 40th country to host a race in the history of the championship - and Lake Toba, near the town of Balige in northern Sumatra, will play host to free practice sessions on Friday afternoon, BRM qualifying on Saturday and the first race of the season on Sunday. The Grand Prix of Indonesia has title sponsorship from Kopiko - one of the largest coffee producers in South East Asia,
This year’s championship has attracted 10 teams and 20 drivers, who are now making their final preparation on the shores of Lake Toba – an immense volcanic lake occupying the caldera of a super volcano that was formed by a gigantic climate-changing eruption around 70,000 years ago.
Team Abu Dhabi claimed the Teams’ and Drivers’ World Championship titles last year, in addition to a maiden Pole Position Trophy, and have stayed loyal to their formidable duo of Shaun Torrente and Thani Al-Qamzi. Torrente added the 2022 title to his two successes in 2015 and 2018, while Al-Qamzi has come close on several occasions and will be hoping to build upon the race win he earned in Sardinia last year on his way to third in the title race. Under the management of Guido Cappellini at the Abu Dhabi International Marine Sports Club (ADIMSC), the duo start the season as favourites to continue their successes.
Team Sweden’s Jonas Andersson pushed the Abu Dhabi duo all the way to the final few laps of the final race in Sharjah last December and would have earned a second world title had he not sustained technical issues 10 laps from the end of the race. The 2021 World Champion is joined by Finland’s Kalle Viippo.
Gillman Racing recently attracted sponsorship from the Mad Croc energy drink brand for its challenge for honours in 2023 and team manager and four-time World Champion Scott Gillman is confident that his young Finnish racers, Alec Weckström and Filip Roms, can deliver top results in 2023. Weckström finished fourth in the 2022 Drivers’ Championship after earning five top four finishes.
Two-time World Champion Philippe Chiappe announced his retirement after the Sharjah races last December and it was fitting that the Frenchman should sign off with a win in the final race. He remains with the China CTIC Team as Sporting Director this year. American Brent Dillard was recently announced as the second driver to race alongside Frenchman Peter Morin.
Morin finished ninth in the standings last year, after two non-finishes and one disqualification, but Dillard will be racing in the discipline for the first time after competing with JRM Racing in the UIM F2 World Championship in 2022. He won the last race in Portugal and finished sixth in the 2022 F2 Drivers’ Championship.
The Sharjah Team has left nothing to chance this season and two-time World Champion Sami Selio has been preparing meticulously in the UAE during the close season. The Finn only had one second place to show for his efforts in 2022, after five DNFs, but he was one of the quickest racers in the field and finished third in the Pole Position Trophy. He has 13 GP wins and 49 podium finishes to his name from 160 race starts.
Dutch team-mate Ferdinand Zandbergen improved markedly as the year progressed and claimed victory in the Grand Prix of Italy on his way to fifth place in the Drivers’ Championship. The Sharjah Team finished fourth in the 2022 Teams’ Championship.
The Comparato F1 Team runs under the management of Italian racing legend Fabio Comparato and his son Alberto finished eighth in the rankings last year, despite three non-finishes.
Australian rookie Brock Cohen was announced as the Italian’s new team mate in January. The 25-year-old Perth-based racer has been competing in Australian Formula GP in an Italian-built DAC and also competed in the last two rounds of the 2022 UIM F2 World Championship in Portugal
The Strømøy Racing F1H2O Team will be hoping to improve on what was a disappointing 2022 season by their high standards. Norway’s Marit Strømøy and Pole Bartek Marszalek finished sixth in the Teams’ Championship and Marszalek saved his best performances for the last two races in the UAE, where he finished third and second. Strømøy is a former Grand Prix winner with five podium finishes to her name and needs a good start to her campaign in Indonesia.
The Dubai-based Victory Team operates out of the Dubai International Marine Club (DIMC) and has a proud history in many forms of marine and motor sports, particularly in Class 1 racing and regional rallying. Absent from the sport since 2019, the team announced its dramatic return to the championship last month and 35-year-old Swedish racer Erik Stark teams up with Emirati rookie Ahmed Al-Fahim in a two-boat line-up.
Al-Fahim used to take part in the F4-S Championship that ran in conjunction with rounds of the UIM F1H2O World Championship and represented the Victory Team. He is also a former winner of the UAE Jet-Ski Championship and was crowned Middle East and Asian champion back in 2000. Stark has raced previously with Team Abu Dhabi, the Victory Team and Maverick Racing. He won four races and claimed 10 podiums from 37 race starts between 2012 and 2021.
The Maverick Racing team stays loyal to his regular two French drivers, Cédric Deguisne and Alexandre Bourgeot. They finished 11th and 14th in last year’s Drivers’ Championship, with Deguisne finishing inside the top 10 on five occasions in his DAC.
The F1 Atlantic Team rounds off the team line-up with Portuguese veteran Duarte Benavente lining up alongside British youngster Ben Jelf for the second time. While Benavente has taken part in 169 Grand Prix and claimed six podiums since 1999, Jelf only joined the UIM F1H2O circuit in Sharjah last December and finished seventh overall in the second of the races, after retiring from race one.
Thursday teams carry out registration and scrutineering formalities before the on-water action takes centre stage on Friday.
2023 UIM F1H2O World Championship – entries:
1.Shaun Torrente (USA) Team Abu Dhabi
2. Thani Al-Qamzi (UAE) Team Abu Dhabi
3. Erik Stark (SWE) Victory Team
4. Ahmed Al-Fahim (UAE) Victory Team
7. Peter Morin (FRA) China CTIC Team
8. Brent Dillard (USA) China CTIC Team
9. Ben Jelf (GBR) F1 Atlantic Team
10. Duarte Benavente (POR) F1 Atlantic Team
11. Sami Selio (FIN) Sharjah Team
12. Ferdinand Zandbergen (NLD) Sharjah Team
14. Jonas Andersson (SWE) Team Sweden
15. Kalle Viippo (FIN) Team Sweden
50. Marit Strømøy (NOR) Strømøy Racing F1H2O Team
77. Bartek Marszalek (POL) Strømøy Racing F1H2O Team
55. Filip Roms (FIN) Gillman Racing
66. Alec Weckström (FIN) Gillman Racing
73. Cédric Deguisne (FRA) Maverick Racing
74. Alexandre Bourgeot (FRA) Maverick Racing
97. Alberto Comparato (ITA) Comparato F1
98. Brock Cohen (AUS) Comparato F1