Powerboat Racing: Werner prevails after Jones the boat becomes unplugged: German controls restarted Formula One battle as Welsh favourite fails in first grand prix in Britain for three years

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The Independent Online
IMAGINE Formula One cars racing over corrugated iron, doing the occasional backward somersault. This was the scene here yesterday as grand prix powerboat racing returned to Britain after an absence of three years.

The boats are designed like low-flying aircraft. They run on aviation fuel and the drivers experience the same g-forces as jet pilots. The secret is to keep the last inch or two of the boat in the water. More and you slow, less and you flip up and over and it all goes dark.

Unlike cars and planes, these powerboats can only turn left. They race around two buoys a mile apart. Each lap takes only 30 seconds and the race is over in 45 minutes, but the lead regularly changes hands.

More than 40,000 watched the weekend's racing at the city's docks. However, inshore powerboat racing tends to be overshadowed by the offshore version, in which 40ft monsters ride the open seas.

The offshore circuit is renowned for its wealthy backers and lavish social life. The inshore set-up is more modest, and lack of sponsorship has prevented Britain hosting an inshore grand prix since the Bristol docks event in 1990. The developers of Cardiff Bay needed only pounds 80,000 to stage this race.

An offshore power boat retails at around pounds 500,000, 10 times more than those on show yesterday, which travel much faster. The top speeds across the dock were in excess of 130mph, and there was no real sympathy with the idea of slowing down for corners.

The area around the buoys soon became the scene of much 'barrow-rolling' as drivers turned into the wash of other boats.

As they spun off, corkscrewing sideways, it all seemed part of the fun, but this remains a dangerous sport. John Hill, Britain's former world champion, was killed in the Formula One race at Abu Dhabi three months ago.

Another former world champion, Jonathan Jones, was the centre of attention yesterday. Once the Formula Three and Formula Four preliminaries were over, the Welshman shot up the grand prix field of 15 catamarans from the start.

On this occasion, though, the local favourite failed to deliver. A spark plug blew and Jones, 36, from Cardiganshire, spluttered into the pits. He said: 'I'd rather have won this race than the world championship. It's 12 months of preparation ruined.'

With Jones out of the running, proceedings were becoming processional, until a Swedish driver, Goran Carlof, barrow-rolled with such aplomb that he broke his boat in half, and the race was temporarily halted.

After a crane had winched the various remains ashore, the 47-year-old German, Michael Werner, took the lead from the restart.

Steve Kerton, from Wiltshire, was losing ground in second place when he also had to retire, but Marc Rolls, from Birmingham, gave the crowd something to cheer by finishing runner-up to Werner. Rolls is a typical powerboat enthusiast facing the characteristic problems of a minor sportsman nobody wants to sponsor.

A 30-year-old local authority employee from Birmingham, Rolls has no financial backers and little hope. 'This result was brilliant,' he said, 'but the fact remains that there's no money in inshore racing.'

The feeling in the pits was that what was needed was a marketing expert who can take the sport by the scruff of the neck.

Inshore powerboat racing is undoubtedly a spectator sport waiting to happen yet, strangely, the money men would rather watch the offshore boats steam off into the distance.

UIM FORMULA ONE SERIES: BRITISH GRAND PRIX (Cardiff): 1 M Werner (Ger) 54min 56:35sec; 2 M Rolls (GB) 55.08:65; 3 G Cappelini (It) 55.28:59; 4 T Ishikawa (Japan) 55.05:91; 5 P Brolin (Swe) 55.27:88; 6 T Eriksson (Swe) 55.18:32; 7 P Eriksson (Swe) 55.03:21; 8 M Zamparelli (It) 55.25:62; 9 D Stallard (GB) 55.34:47; 10 A Elliot (GB) 55.14:42; 11 S Pichet (NZ) 55.19:31. Non-finishers: S Kerton (GB), G Karlof (Swe), J Jones (GB), S Noawart (Thai).

Alan Webb, 64, from Oxford, won the two-day Hull Gold Cup event on the River Humber yesterday. Webb's closest rival, David Allenby, from Chandlers Ford in Hampshire, led the field after Saturday's race, but had to correct an on-course error yesterday, costing him precious time and the Cup. Almost half the field failed to finish.

UK OFFSHORE BOATING ASSOCIATION CHAMPIONSHIP Third round: HUMBER GRAND PRIX (River Humber): Hull Gold Cup: A Webb (Oxford) Flippin' Shy Talk (Flipper / Yamaha). Class winners: Class II: 1 D Allenby (Chandlers Ford) Assagai (Hicks / Mercury). 2-litre: T Jenvey (Beaulieu) Swiftwood (Midas / Mercury). 1.3-litre: G Grayson (Swansea) Newavon (Phantom / Suzuki).

(Photograph omitted)

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