Team Abu Dhabi’s triple world champion in mood for new title challenge
KLAIPEDA, Lithuania: Team Abu Dhabi’s Rashed Al-Qemzi faces another stern test in Sunday’s powerboating Grand Prix of Lithuania as he launches his bid for a fourth drivers’ title in the 2023 UIM F2 World Championship.
Driving a new DAC in the opening round of the series, Al-Qemzi had to be content with fourth place in qualifying, as Monaco’s Giacomo Sacchi snatched pole position ahead of Estonian rookie Stefan Arand and Norway’s Tobias Munthe-Kaas.
On a day characterized by hazardous conditions, with the boats at times bouncing over waves stirred by the wind, Team Abu Dhabi’s Mansoor Al-Mansoori qualified in sixth place from the qualifying shoot-out.
Al-Qemzi, who scored Grand Prix victories in Lithuania in 2017 and 2019 on the way to two of his world titles, will now look to summon up a big challenge from the race start to give himself the chance of another victory.
It was always going to be a difficult day to start the new season, with the race organizers being forced to move the course away from the harshest conditions in Klaipeda, a city on the Baltic Sea.
With the rough waters troubling all the drivers and making racing very much a test of nerve, Al-Qemzi set the fastest time in the first qualifying session ahead of Mette Bjerknaes and team-mate Al-Mansoori.
In conditions showing no sign of easing, Al-Mansoori and Al-Qemzi moved into the six-boat qualifying shoot-out in fourth and fifth spots as Arand went quickest from Munthe-Kaas and Sacchi.
Half of the way through the final qualifying session Al-Qemzi held the fastest time, before losing it after a yellow flag briefly halted proceedings because of a problem with the timing system.
Team Abu Dhabi have embarked on the new season driven by optimism and determination, Al-Qemzi looking to add to his three F2 crowns, and Al-Mansoori also aiming for the top spot following his third-place overall finish in last year’s championship.
With a mix of heavy experience and rising talent, including seven drivers making their F2 debuts, the starting line-up was reduced to 18 boats when Lithuanian newcomer Egidijus Dagilis failed to pass scrutineering.
Winds churning up high rollers made the free practice session a battle of the brave, and Al-Qemzi and Al-Mansoori were third and fourth fastest as Sacchi set the early pace from three-time former F2 champion, Britain’s Colin Jelf.