In near-perfect conditions down at The Wavebreaker in the bay they call the Pearl of the Gulf, Scott Gillman of the United States rounded off his first year on the world Formula One powerboat circuit with victory in the final race of the season here yesterday.
The 40-year-old from Basalt, Colorado, twice the American champion, had already wrapped up his first title in Europe with a race to spare; yesterday was supposed to be all about second place and the battle between Finland's Pertti Leppala and Guido Cappellini of Italy, with Cappellini's great rival, Jonathan Jones of Wales, trailing back in fourth overall.
The sight of 24 boats blasting off together from the jetty was an awesome one, as they go from 0-60mph in less than two seconds before reaching a top speed of over 140mph. Cappellini, champion for the past four years, was on pole position and took advantage of the clear water by streaking into a lead of 50 metres by the first turn, about 800m into the L-shaped circuit.
Jones had to settle for heading the chasing pack, but after 20 of the scheduled 45 laps the Italian's lead was already looking impregnable, with Leppala and Gillman back in the bunch. Then Jones struck trouble.
His engine cut out, and although he managed to restart he had dropped back several places. In his haste he seemed to take a gamble at the last turn of the 24th lap and went into a spectacular barrel-roll. The impact of the water shattered his Burgess boat, the race was stopped and Jones was ushered off to hospital for precautionary X-rays.
It certainly was not the worst Jones has suffered in a 12-year career in Formula One that has seen him win the world title three times as well as being the only European to have won the American title, too.
His last championship, in 1991, was won despite a horrific clash with Cappellini which has left scars on Jones' left leg to make you wince. "I'd won the first three races of the season, but in the fourth race, in Hungary, Cappellini drove into the side of my boat and I ended up with a severely crushed leg," he told me. "They did an eight-hour operation on it, put in 23 pins and said I wouldn't be able to race again that year. But I was very determined and I realised most of the others were off the pace, so I put myself through a rigorous training schedule for three months.
"I managed to convince a local doctor to make a cast for my leg in carbon- fibre to hold it all together, with hinges on either side. They hauled me into the boat and I managed to get back for the last two races and do just enough to win the championship."
On the restart yesterday Cappellini showed no sign of surrendering, but his compatriots Francesco Cantando and Massimo Roggiero were moving smoothly through the field behind Gillman, now in second place. Then, on lap 38, Cappellini suddenly ground to a halt, possibly through over-revving, and the American inherited the lead with just over five laps remaining.
The upshot was Gillman's fifth victory of the nine-race season, and with another 20 points in the bag he took the championship by a handsome 34 points from Leppala, who came in fourth yesterday after being fined $5,000 (pounds 3,100) the previous day for what Ralf Frohling, president of the Union Internationale Motonautique, described as "bad behaviour" in qualifying. Cappellini finished third overall, with Britain's Paul Blackburn a creditable sixth yesterday and Alan Marshall ninth.
Jones, happily recovered from his latest ordeal, was understandably disappointed. "As I was approaching the turn, the wind just caught the underneath of the boat and the rest was history," the 39-year-old from Cardigan explained.
"The cockpit hit the water with tremendous force but fortunately I was able to undo my harness and climb out. I'm very upset because the boat's obviously a write-off and I could have won or at least finished second in the race. I was a bit hazy at first, so they gave me a brain scan and chest X-rays, but I'm OK."
FORMULA 1 WORLD POWERBOAT CHAMPIONSHIP Ninth and final race (Abu Dhabi, UAE): 1 S Gillman (US, Seebold) 56min 32.85sec; 2 F Cantando (It, DAC) +38.69sec; 3 M Roggiero (It, DAC) +1 lap; 4 P Leppala (Fin, DAC) +1; 5 Y Sugihara (Japan, DAC) +1; 6 P Blackburn (GB, Burgess) +1. Selected: 9 A Marshall (GB, Seebold) + 3; 13 G Cappellini (It, DAC) +5. Did not finish: J Jones (GB, Burgess), A Elliott (GB, Burgess).Reuse content