Only the best for Dubai's flyer

Stuart Alexander on a powerboating champion's plans to defend his world title
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Saeed al Tayer is a world champion in a dangerous, glamorous sport needing considerable skill and daring to harness huge forces. The images of power, speed and brute force excite a worldwide intake of breath. Yet he is hardly known at all.

Al Tayer, who runs the Land Rover/Range-Rover and Ferrari concessions in Dubai and the northern Emirates, is outgoing, even slightly boisterous.Strapped into a specially sprung seat to prevent broken legs or compacted vertebrae as the hull smashes into waves at up to 145mph, the world powerboating champion is also a fierce competitor.

His gleaming, royal blue, 43ft vessel was given a last dip yesterday in the waters of the Arabian Gulf. All other noises at the Victory team's base at the Dubai International Marine Club were drowned out by the deep-throated rasp of its twin eight-litre American V8 engines, with over 1,800 horsepower between them.

The catamaran was then lifted gently back on to its liveried, custom- built truck and trailer so that it can be shipped to Italy on Friday on its way to Cuba for the first grand prix of the season, scheduled for the end of April in Havana. With it goes a new second boat, also with American engines, and a modified third boat with Lamborghini engines. They will be transferred to a third new boat as soon as it is ready to leave the modern building and engineering facility less than a mile away from the Dubai club.

Each boat has a fully equipped engineering workshop truck, and there is a spare truck for pick-ups and deliveries and a couple of fast support boats. The Emirates team travels in style to places like Marbella, Rome and Gallipoli.

It also sets off with a little uncertainty this year. Both the Dubai and the Italian boats are due to be shipped together to Cuba. At the moment that Grand Prix is still on, but there are worries both that the team might be walking into a situation where their equipment could be seized for political bargaining purposes. There is also the small matter of diplomatic relations with the United States.

The Arab team and the Italians have turned elite powerboat racing almost into a private war. The principal aim, of putting the name of Dubai on the map of the modern world through sporting success, seems almost to have been undermined by that very success.

This is because the sort of budget the Dubai syndicate can wield might easily be blamed for frightening away other potential competitors, who until recently included among their number a British world champion, Steve Curtis.

The managing director of the Victory team, Khalfan Harib, who won the championship himself in 1993, speaks highly of Curtis as "a great competitor", one with whom he once had a finish-line collision which caused Curtis's boat to do a backwards somersault. "I wish he was back," he said.

Usually the Dubai drivers are partnered by Italians or Americans, though there is a strong basis of Class 2 racing in the country through which the top drivers can emerge. And their boat-building facility is populated by the pick of American and European builders, engineers and test mechanics. The very best resources for the best powerboat racer - even if he is almost completely unknown.