|Mamaia, Romania's largest Black Sea resort, is the setting for next weekend's Romanian Grand Prix, round 4 of the WPPA Class 1 World Powerboat Championship|
The event described by Mr Radu Stefan Mazare, the Mayor of Constanta City, as "one of the most important events of the last 15 years, not just for Constanta and Mamaia but all Romania" and fittingly for the event organisers and the town, hosting their first Class 1 Grand Prix, the third new venue on the calendar this season, the outcome of the 2007 European title race will be settled in Romanian waters.
Spirit of Norway's much needed win in Oslo has reignited the battle in the world championship title race - which at one point looked like becoming a runaway fight between the might of the Middle East - Victory and Qatar. But Bjorn Gjelsten and Steve Curtis proved in the last race, that when they are dialled-in, they are still the team to beat, and have no intention of conceding their world title without a supreme fight. But they are resigned to the fact that their European reign is over, with Victory the odds on favourites to regain the crown which they have held four times, and was last won for them by Ali Nasser and Ali Al Qama in 2004. For Gjelsten and Curtis the focus now is setting about reducing the 22-point deficit between them and the championship leader's.
But it is Victory 77's Arif Saif Al Zafeen and Jean-Marc Sanchez, the overall championship leader's, who head into the race weekend poised to lift the first silverware of the season, and whilst both Qatar 96 and Victory 7 are still in with a mathematical, albeit outside shot at the title - both needing the win with Victory 77 to finish outside the points - this seems an unlikely scenario, based on Victory 77's current form, two wins and a second last time out in Oslo.
The rivalry amongst the top four, all running V12 power-plants, is fierce, with little separating them in terms of performance. Qatar 96 is enjoying their strongest start to a season since joining the championship back in 2003, with Sheikh Hassan and Matteo Nicolini looking to be real title contenders, currently lying in second place, but Sheikh Hassan clearly feels that they still need to find more pace to match Victory and Spirit of Norway, and is not satisfied with their three podium finishes so far. Victory's strength in depth was highlighted in Oslo, when their new driver combination of Talib Al Sayed and Nadir Bin Hendi, produced an excellent second fastest time in the Edox Pole Position, just missing out on a podium, finishing strongly in fourth.
Just off the pace of the front-runners are Abdullah Al-Sulaiti and Luca Nicolini in Qatar 95, the strongest of those outfits running V8's, and after making steady improvement to performance over the last couple of races, the team feels it is now all about optimising set-ups, before they too join the battle at the front. The middle-order battle is intriguing, and once again likely be a dog-fight between Foresti & Suardi's Giampaolo Montavoci and Marco Penessi and Class 1 rookies, Tom Barry-Cotter and Pal Nilsen in Spirit of Norway 20 - the youngsters losing out in Arendal but winning the duel in Oslo. Further down the order, both Cirilli and Olsen, VM Foresti & Suardi and Giorgi and Polli, SeveneleveN have struggled with reliability and they will be looking to at least finish and grab points in Mamaia.
Jotun and Negotiator have had agonising starts to their seasons, both failing to post points. However both have shown on occasions that when they have trouble free runs, they are very quick - especially Jotun in Oslo, who came from the second row start line to be up with front runners at the first corner before crashing out - and it would add to the intensity of the title race if they can find some reliability and start mixing it with the top four and start taking points away from them.
The European title may well be heading to Dubai, but the outcome of the first WPPA Class 1 World Powerboat Grand Prix to be staged in Romania is wide open, and for the teams, a third different type of course and conditions to come to terms with this season, the 97.76Nm, 21-lap race being run on the usually calm waters of Mamaia's Lake Siutghiol.