Sunday, 2 March: The UIM Nations Cup World Series kicks off its fourth season in Qatar’s capital city Doha on 10-12 March for the first of three scheduled events in 2014, with newcomers Belarus lining up for the first time against teams from Italy, Malaysia, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
The relatively young series is always entertaining and has provided a wealth of spectacular racing and dramatic moments over the last three years thanks largely to the format of teams running identical boats, engines and propellers and, whilst race outcomes can never really be predicted, one team has stood out above all others.
Team UAE will be out to uphold their winning tradition - Ahmed Al Hameli and Majed Al Mansoori winning in Singapore, Al Mansoori and Rashed Al Tayer winning in Khor Fakkan - and retains the same driver line-up as they go in search of a fourth consecutive Nations Cup crown, with Rashed Al Qemzi leading out teammate Mohamed Al Mehairbi as they look to successfully defend their title.
The Abu Dhabi duo faced stiff opposition in 2013 and overcame intense pressure on home waters, coming from behind after finding themselves down in third place after the Qatar Grand Prix, to win the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix and climb the overall points table to retain their crown, largely thanks to a series of virtuoso performances by Al Qemzi who dominated the series sprint races, winning all four.
Team Russia were mighty and out in force on their series debut last season fielding six drivers to share race duties over the two events and no doubt will be out for revenge after seeing the title slip away after winning the Qatar Grand Prix to momentarily lead the overall points table.
Of the six drivers who ultimately grabbed the runners-up slot last season, Michail Kitashev, Andrey Panyushkin and reserve drivers Dmitry Malkin and Kostantin Ustinov will again run for Team Russia, with the Vandyshev brothers Dmitry and reserve driver Roman joined by Andrey Ovkinnikov racing for Team Belarus.
Saudi Arabia’s Naeem Al Kedawi and Saud Hamad were perhaps the surprise package in 2013 and played the team game to perfection, were consistent and reliable in all outings picking up points in all competitions to ultimately grab third place overall.
The duo from Jeddah both return this year with Hamad looking to better his best result, a fourth and Al Kedawi his best, a sixth and both achieved in Doha.
Khalid Al Kuwari will again lead out the home favourites Team Qatar and for the second time will be partnered by 28 year-old Mohamad Al Obaidly, both hailing from Doha.
Al Kuwari was immense on home waters last time out winning the Match Race - a feat he repeated in Abu Dhabi - and finishing second and third in both sprint races but he was beset with technical issues in Abu Dhabi finishing well down the order.
Al Obaidly will be trying, and hoping, for a slightly less drama-filled series this year, after a Nations Cup debut that was a rollercoaster ride from start-to-finish for the rookie, crashing out in race 2 on Doha Bay and again in qualifying in Abu Dhabi which side-lined him from starting the races and missing out on team points, with Qatar ending their campaign down in a disappointing fifth after finishing as runners-up in 2011 and 2012.
Team Italy will run a full season this year and on their one and only showing last year will be amongst the favourites for the title after an impressive debut in Abu Dhabi. Stefano Paoletti will lead the team and will again be partnered by Marco Gambi.
Both produced solid performances in Abu Dhabi, Paoletti going third quickest in qualifying, Gambi sixth, and both making it to the shoot-out for third and fourth places in the Match Race with Paoletti coming out on top, and equally impressive in both sprint races finishing fourth and third to help Italy to second place in the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix and sixth overall.
Making a welcome return to the series for the Team’s third outing in Nations Cup and their second start are Malaysian brothers Alffian Yanto and Mohammad Affendey Kadri who shared mixed fortunes on their debut in Khor Fakkan, with the elder of the two Alffian crashing out in race 1 and Mohammad going on to take third overall in the sprint races after finishing seventh and third.