A fantastic twenty-five drivers made the journey to Mons, Belgium on the 9th & 10th May as the 2024 UIM World Championship campaign got underway.

With 13 nations represented across the class and Water Approvals only allowing 18 race boats on the water the drivers would not only have to fight for the Grand Prix points they would have an intense battle to make it through qualifying to the actual race.

The Belgium event would be split into two Grand Prix Races, meaning drivers would have to fight through qualifying to make it into each day’s Grand Prix 20 lap race.

Qualifying 1 would see two sessions that would see the top 15 boats after both sessions progress into Q2 to establish their grid positions with the top six drivers in Q2 proceeding to Q3 and a two boat shootout to determine pole position.

The remaining 10 boats would then battle in a repechage 10 lap race to claim the final three places on the Grand Prix Grid.

UIM World Championship F4

As Thursday morning dawned the racers were split into two groups for the free practice which would also make the qualifying groups for later in the day.

It was defending World Champion Jarno Vilmunen that showed his intent for the weekend, setting the fastest time of both the free practice session half a second faster than his fierce rival Andrè Solvang and the pressure would be on for the qualifying.

With both drivers in opposing groups for qualifying it was challenging to gauge their speed on the water against each other in the ever-changing conditions.

Both drivers topped their groups and progressed strongly into Q2, where they would compete with their fellow peers for a further 17 minutes to determine the top six.

Norway’s Andrè Solvang stole the first place in the top six shoot-out followed by Jarno Vilmunen, fellow Fin Noel Vänttinen, France’s Jean Baptiste-Thomas, Abu Dhabi racer Salem Al Yafeai and Sweden’s Hilmer Wiberg.

A miscalculation on fuel saw Al Yafeai unable to complete his two hot laps and was towed to shore with the 6th Grid place for the race.

UIM World Championship F4

Pole Position went to the defending champion Vilmunen after two perfect laps, with Noel Vänttinen taking second on the grid and Solvang forced to settle for third.

The repechage saw a flawless race from Team Abu Dhabi’s Ahmed Al Remeithi to secure the 16th Grand Prix Grid place, France’s Tristan Feyt took 17th position and the Netherlands Mart Bokslag completed the grid.

As the lights went out for the 20-lap race the boats powered away from the dock and into the first turn. As the spray settled Vilmunen took the lead, closely followed by Solvang in positions they maintained to the chequered flag in some fantastic driving. Meanwhile Vänttinen, Al Yafeai and Baptiste-Thomas fought it out for third position in an intense session.

As the race laps past Hungary’s Attila Horváth came unstuck on Lap 14 as he hit the wash from the other boats wrong and barrel rolled out the race.

As the boats grouped together for the restart of the race. France’s Jean Baptiste-Thomas’ experience showed through as the racer sat in the wake of Vänttinen and Al Yafeai waiting for the green flag.

As the race restarted, he got the jump on both his rivals to move himself up to third where he took the chequered flag. Vänttinen took 4th and Al Yafeai secured 5th.

Belgium Grand Prix Race Day 2

With the first Championship points on the board Friday dawned a new day of racing.

The fleet of racers was once more split into two groups and once more undertook the free practice to set their boats up for the conditions ahead of qualifying.

Jarno Vilmunen once again topped the board in free practice with France’s Nelson Morin taking the fastest time in the second group of racers.

The fastest boat on the water once more in Q1 was Vilmunen 0.55 of a second ahead of Solvang and Vänttinen just half a second behind him. With seven drivers in Group A setting lap times of less than 1minute they moved through to Q2. Nelson Morin was the only boat in Group B going sub 1 minute to secure his place in Q2 with the rest of the fleet forced to wait for the chequered flag to find out if they had progressed.

The defending champion was the first driver to secure his place in Q3. Once more joined by Jean Baptiste-Thomas, Vänttinen, Solvang, Wiberg and France’s Morin who completed the top six boats.

Vänttinen, the 4th Drive to set his lap times, held the pole position as Solvang headed out for his first lap. The Norwegian driver had used the experience of the previous day to carefully select his propeller and set his boat for the day’s conditions and as he completed his first lap, he clinched pole position from Vänttinen just before his trim failed and forced him to pull out of his second lap. It would be a waiting game now to see if he were quick enough to take pole from Vilmunen.

Vilmunen took second on the grid ahead of the day’s repechage race to determine the final three grid places.

France’s Tristan Feyt took the Win in the repêchage race with Salem Al Fayeai taking the 17th start position and with France’s Enzo Ridel completing the grid it was time to turn attention to the Grand Prix Race.

As the boats took their place on the grid tensions were high but there was one notable absence on the start line. Defending Champion Jarno Vilmunen who’s Motor Mix Race boat was up for sale. Vilmunen had in fact sold his boat during the lunch break and had withdrawn from the day’s race.

The lights went out for the start of the race and the boats powered away from the pontoon and into the first turn. As the fleet headed round the second turn Abu Dhabi’s Salem Al Yafeai spectacularly hooked into the path of Slovakia’s Šimon Jung and the two drivers collided. With Al Yafeai injured and the boats entwined the race was red flagged whilst safety crews recovered both boats, and the drivers received the appropriate medical assistance.

Salem Al Yafeai was admitted to hospital for further precautionary assessment whilst on site medics assisted with Jung’s dislocated shoulder.

With boats recovered the Grand Prix of Belgium Race 2 was restarted. The drivers would complete 19 laps to determine who would claim the day’s Podium top spot.

As the fleet powered away Solvang used his pole position to his full advantage keeping Finland’s Vänttinen in his wake. Despite the pressure Vänttinen applied through every lap of the race Solvang managed to hold on to take the chequered flag and with it the lead in the 2024 World Championship.

Vänttinen drove fantastically and secured the silver medal with France’s Jean Baptiste-Thomas once more securing the Bronze.

We are happy to report at the time of writing Salem Al Yafeai is still in hospital but will make a full recovery from his injuries.

With Vilmunen’s withdrawal from the competition Team Sharjah’s Solvang take the early lead in the World Championship but the youngster knows that he will have his work cut out for him at the next round of the Championship to keep his fellow racers from stealing his Championship lead.

We caught up with the Norwegian after the race. “Firstly me and all the other racers wish Salem a speedy recovery and we can’t wait to be fighting with him again back on the water soon.”

He continued “I’m so happy to take the win today and the lead in the championship. Jarno is a formidable racer that will be missed on the circuit. But with 25 boats on the water there is a substantial number of talented drivers that will make holding onto the championship lead difficult. Vänttinen raced really strong all weekend and he didn’t make any mistakes. I’m really going to have to work hard to beat him in the future.”

The World Championship now heads to Klaipeda in Lithuania in August, but before the World Championship continues drivers will battle it out at the European Championship in Imatra, Finland on 9-11 August.

 

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