Rashed Al Qemzi celebrated his championship-winning season in style with a commanding victory in the last race of the UIM F2 World Championship season in Abu Dhabi. The Emirati had already claimed his second career F2 title but demonstrated one last time how dominant both he and Team Abu Dhabi have been this year.
Under heavy, leaden skies the remaining eighteen drivers lined up on the start pontoon. Already missing by this stage was the British driver Steve Hoult. After guaranteeing a place for the Grand Prix with a brilliant performance back in Portugal, it was heart breaking to see the Team WNT driver sat in the pits with a broken transom.
With the racers and mechanics looking to the heavens waiting for the rain to arrive the red lights finally went and it was Duarte Benavente who made a superb start and was a clear boat length ahead of Al Qemzi by the time the pair had reached the demarcation buoy. The Portuguese racer knew he had to leave space at the first turn which Al Qemzi duly accepted and surged off into the lead.
Behind them came Owen Jelf but his race would be cut short when his gear case spat the prop shaft out. This moved Edgaras Riabko up a place, but he was coming under increasing pressure from Tobias Munthe-Kaas. In the end it was the Norwegian driver who cracked and collected a turn buoy for his trouble, then seconds later he narrowly avoided hitting Stefan Hagin as they both headed for turn three. Eventually with no power steering and an engine warning light flashing away Munthe-Kaas was forced into calling it a day and retired from the race.
As the Grand Prix reached the half distance point the water conditions had began to worsen and it wasn’t long before they claimed their first victim in the form of Johan Österberg. The Swedish racer hit a wave and tumble turned out of the race. ‘If it wasn’t for bad luck, I’d have no luck at all’ seemed to sum up his 2019 season after he finished his third event heading back ashore in a rescue boat. This time though he wasn’t able to walk away after he badly bruised his foot but has promised to be back for the 2020 season. Once Österberg’s Molgaard had been safely towed back to the pits the race got under way.
Making a superb restart was the Sharjah Team’s Ferdinand Zandbergen, who was in contention for third overall in the UIM F2 World Championship. The Dutch driver easily overtook Nikita Lijcs and then got past Ola Pettersson just before turn four opposite the pits. For his trouble he got a gentle reminder from Pettersson; who was also in contention for that third place, that he wasn’t going to give in lightly. This obviously unsettled Zandbergen because as he took the next turn his BaBa hull suddenly barrel rolled out of the race. “Coming out of the restart I suddenly had great speed and got past Lijcs with ease” said Zandbergen. “Just after the turn Ola barged into me and the next thing, I remember was I was going for a swim.” As Pettersson followed him through the turn his BaBa hull hit the upturned skeg of Zandbergen which ripped off his left-hand pickle fork and wrecked his chances of continuing to the finish line.
With just six laps now remaining those left suddenly had a sprint race to contend with but try as they might no one could catch Al Qemzi and as he took the chequered flag the place erupted with jubilation. “It’s like being a ‘super star’ in your hometown” said the delighted Emirati.
Following in his wake came Benavente, who had kept out of trouble all race. “It’s been a very good day” said the Portuguese racer. “I actually got ahead of Al Qemzi at the start, but I had to leave him some space at the turn. Once he was out in front, I knew he was in a position to control the race and even though we were posting identical lap times it still wasn’t enough to catch him. We came here to do a job, yes I would have love to have won today but I’m satisfied with the runner up position in the world championship.”
Next to finish was the Lithuanian driver Edgaras Riabko who had lost his power trim control just after the final restart. “I was lucky” he said, “It was stuck in the middle, so I could keep the speed up going down the straight’s but had to be very careful in the turns.” His luck though was about to run out following closer inspection of his engine block, which led to his disqualification.
That then moved Stefan Hagin up to third place much the obvious delight of his new team. “Feels real good” said team owner Steve Dillard. “Disappointed for Riabko but this is racing, and we are all extremely happy with our decision to run with Hagin. Today’s trophy is not just for us but all of those including Dillard Financial Solution that have helped us throughout our second season of running in this great championship.”
So, as the rain began to fall, the drivers headed off to the desert to celebrate and commiserate with each other guided by the lights of the neon camel that shines the brightest.
Something for them to ponder over the dark winter months is the news that Team Abu Dhabi have confirmed that Al Qemzi will be back to defend his 2019 UIM F2 World Championship title, not quite the Christmas present many of them were after.