Dubai: Team Abu Dhabi’s Erik Stark blazed the waters on the Abu Dhabi Corniche on Friday to earn the right to start from pole position for the Grand Prix of Abu Dhabi — the penultimate round of the 2018 UIM F1H2O World Championship.
Joined by his two other teammates on home waters, Sweden’s Stark came out all guns blazing in the final shoot-out to set a best time of 42.81 seconds and take the top spot ahead of Marit Stromoy from the Emirates Racing Team (43.18s), while Thani Al Qamzi finished third best with a valiant 43.25s.
The next two spots on the grid were locked out by Team Amaravati drivers Jonas Andersson (43.88s) and Edin Erik (43.94s), while current overall leader in the drivers’ classification, Shaun Torrente of Team Abu Dhabi, registered the sixth best time of 44.13s.
Stark is fully aware of how important the pole position is to him for a maiden world crown that he could be in the running heading into next week’s Grand Prix of Sharjah — the final round of the 2018 UIM F1 H2O World Championship. The last 10 races have been won by the pole-sitter with Stark and Torrente owning the slot all season with two and three wins respectively.
Torrente heads the drivers’ standings with 72 points, while Stark is in second with 65 points and Al Qamzi is in third with 54 for an all-Abu Dhabi affair. The closest challenger to the Team Abu Dhabi trio is Peter Morin — teammate of former four-time world champion Philippe Chiappe of the CTIC F1 Shenzhen China Team — in fourth with 39 points.
The teams’ crown could also land in Team Abu Dhabi’s lap as consistent performances in the last five races have seen the trio of drivers compile 126 points, 53 clear of CTIC F1 Shenzhen China Team who are second with 73 points, while Team Amaravati follows in third with 32 points.
“This is a happy occasion for me as I start from pole position to try and continue my fine form this season,” Stark said after the race. “I have my eyes on the top spot and there would be nothing better than finishing off with both the drivers’ and teams’ titles before the final round in Sharjah.”
Friday’s three-part qualifying session held over an hour had plenty of thrills from the onset with former four-time world champion Philippe Chiappe of the CTIC among the early drivers to exit in the race for pole position at the end of Q1. The Frenchman was timed 13th best during the opening 20 minutes of the BRM Qualifying along with Portuguese Duarte Benavente and Norwegian Filip Roms.
The second qualifying session of 15 minutes had to be curtailed midway after Victory Team’s Ahmad Al Hameli flipped and crashed his boat after steering too close to Peter Morin in the second CTIC boat. Al Hameli was airlifted to Khalifa Hospital and was reported to be kept under observation.
With the yellow flag out until the final four minutes, it was Stark at the top with a fine lap of 44.05s, leaving teammate Al Qamzi nearly a second off the pace while Edin was in third.
The shoot-out between the top six witnessed back-and-forth excitement with Torrente laying down the marker with a quick lap of 44.13s. But the American driver’s lead at the top was soon undone by the remaining five with his teammate Stark coming out on top after leaving the paddock at the end.
Earlier in the morning, after sitting out Thursday’s free practice, the three Team Abu Dhabi drivers showed their intent for completing a somewhat rare double with Stark and Torrente matching each other in the top two spots with quick laps of 45.61s and 45.65s.
There will be an additional free practice session from 10.15am to 11.15am on Saturday while the Grand Prix of Abu Dhabi will be flagged off at 3.30pm.
Qualifying standings: 1. Erik Stark (Team Abu Dhabi — 42.81 secs); 2. Marit Stromoy (Emirates Racing Team — 43.18); 3. Thani Al Qamzi (Team Abu Dhabi — 43.25); 4. Jonas Andersson (Team Amaravati — 43.88); 5. Edin Erik (Team Amaravati — 43.94); 6. Shaun Torrente (Team Abu Dhabi — 44.13); 7. Ahmad Al Hameli (Victory Team — 45.51); 8. Peter Morin (CTIC F1 Shenzhen China Team — 45.65); 9. Alex Carella (Victory Team — 45.75); 10. Bartek Marszalek (Emirates Racing Team — 45.98)