Global Ambassadors

By Andre Gonzaga

There was a huge sigh of relief spread across Gianfranco Venturelli’s face after the opening round of the WPPA Class One World Powerboat Championship last month. Five years has been a long time for the Italian as he has done everything in his capacity to turn around the fortunes of the Victory Team.

After going without a title for so long, Venturelli cannot hide his impatience. His team has been the world champions, but the last time was half a decade ago. He has tasted the sweet taste of success, which somehow has been eluding the men in blue. Patience is thin and is surely running out for the Dubai-based team, considering the extensive pre-season training undertaken by the team in getting them ready for the battle ahead.

All this hard work and meticulous planning did not go in vain as the two Victory Team boats – Victory 77 and Victory 7 - swept away honours in the opening round of the World Professional Powerboat Association (WPPA) Class One World Powerboat Championship held in Greece in the first half of June. The Victory Team hunger was on display in picturesque Athens as the less fancied combination of Jean Marc Sanchez and Aref Al Zafeen in Victory 77 sidestepped Victory 7’s duo of Ahmad Al Suwaidi and Nader Bin Hindi.

It was a momentous occasion for debutante Al Zafeen, but at the end of the race, Venturelli had the broadest grin of them all. “We have been waiting for this to happen for quite some time now. It has been a long time since we had a one-two finish for Victory,” Venturelli admitted.

The Italian has always believed that the Dubai team has all the ingredients in turning the corner and setting a realistic goal of annexing the world title once again this year. “The Greek Grand Prix is just the beginning, and the start has been good for us. I only hope we can carry forward this success through the remainder of the season. I want the two Victory Team boats to be confident so that they can make winning a habit,” Venturelli stated.

But the Italian also knows how much of hard work has gone into making this success possible for the team that has picked up six world crowns since their inception on the global stage in 1992. And the sudden streak of missing out on the ultimate honours during the past five years has led the team into self doubt and a low din of criticism to go along with it.

However, the outfit has believed in their ability to win and portray Dubai on the world stage – because that is what the initial idea of setting up a powerboat team was all about.

During the past two seasons, Victory Team boats have had close calls on the title – the closest was last year when Spirit of Norway clipped them by a mere two points. “It has been a close call in the past two years and hopefully, we have done enough to close down this gap this year and set a realistic goal,” Venturelli stated.

The Italian has a wealth of experience when it comes to handling an outfit like the Victory Team. He has spent more than 35 years in the automotive and marine industry, his previous assignments being with Ferrari and Lamborghini back home.

Under his guidance, the Victory Team has taken three UIM Class One and three UIM Class Two World Offshore Championship titles. In this time, he has also overseen the team’s successful development with the emergence of the Victory Team commercial division, a step that sees the outfit not only build and sell state-of-the-art boats, but also focus on high-tech marine activities.

This sort of experience has rubbed off on the team as they strive towards a new era of professionalism in the team at all levels. “The fruit of the winter testing will be seen as the season progresses. But what is even more important is that we get maximum reliability in our set-up and strive for professionalism at all levels,” Venturelli remarked.

The aspect of professionalism is crucial, given the fact that there are suddenly a cluster of boats that are capable of being serious challengers to the title. “Suddenly every one is showing a hunger that was previously missing. The difference between boats and teams is getting narrow, and we realize that we ought to be more professional in our approach,” he said.

“Now that we have won the first round, our boats are under the scanner. The entire world will be watching us to see how we are going to carry forward this success. We are a world-class team and we need to carry this forward and bring home a magical seventh title,” Venturelli asserted.

History of Victory Team

Several years ago, the Government of Dubai identified sports as a key way of spreading the name of the emirate as a business and tourist destination to an international audience. That was the start of a top international set-up that went on to dominate the sport over the years.

In 1986, the first boat with the words ‘Victory Team’ emblazoned on its hull made its appearance on the scene initially competing in events throughout the Middle East and the USA.

In 1992, it made its debut in the arena of Class One where they stormed into an unprecedented first time and second as guest entries during the final two rounds of the UIM Class One World Championship.

A year later, competing as an official entry at the top level of the sport, Victory Team went on to win the 1993 UIM Class One World Offshore Championship as well as the Pole Position title in their first season, an astonishing feat by any standards.

Today, Victory Team is acknowledged as the greatest success story to emerge in the history of offshore racing.

“We have a responsibility to defend when we step out there in any part of the world,” Venturelli said.  “We are a team representing Dubai and the entire world is watching to see what Dubai is up to. The Victory team has been a true ambassador for the sport and for Dubai and the UAE,” he added.

In terms of development too, the team stands apart and all Victory Team boats are built and rigged entirely in their Dubai facility. The team have also developed and built its own ‘Victory V12’ engines derived from Lamborghini, but built and developed by the team in Dubai. From Cuba to Kuwait, New Zealand to Norway, while on the road, the sight of Victory Team rolling into town is an impressive one.

Down the years and with six world titles under their belt starting with the first one in 1993, the Victory Team has always endeavoured to move towards professionalism taking the sport to a different level. In keeping with this approach, Khalfan Hareb – one of the most successful drivers in the set-up – is the Managing Director of the team since its inception in 1990.

“Once again, it is time we take up the challenge that lies ahead this season. For this, we are armed with a steadfast commitment to sporting excellence, a dedication to professionalism and an unwavering determination to bring pride to our country by adorning the halls of our headquarters with the world trophy,” remarked Shaikh Ahmad Bin Saeed Al Maktoum, Chairman of Victory Team as the team readied itself for the 2007 season.

“The Victory Team is associated with Dubai and this means that we have accomplished what we were entrusted with,” stated Saeed Hareb, Managing Director of the Dubai International Marine Club and President of the newly-formed World Professional Powerboat Association (WPPA).

Victory Team driver profiles

Ahmad Al Suwaidi
- Driver: Victory 7
Date of Birth: October 5, 1971
Place of Birth: Dubai, UAE
Residence: Dubai

Victory 7 driver Ahmad Al Suwaidi has all the experience needed to develop into a successful driver for the team. He teamed up with Nader Bin Hindi for the first time last season and came up with relative success as they took the second spot behind teammates Aref Al Zafeen and Jean Marc Sanchez at the end of the Greek Grand Prix in June. Last year was a learning experience for the pair as they took one third place to finish seventh in the overall standings at the end of the season.

Nader Bin Hindi - Throttleman: Victory 7
Date of Birth: December 15, 1969
Place of Birth: Dubai, UAE
Residence: Dubai

Formerly one of the best jet-ski drivers in the region, Nader Bin Hindi, like his teammate Ahmad Al Suwaidi started Class One racing from 2005. He has been a keen student and used 2006 as a learning curve to sharpen his skills with the boat. The Dubai-born Nader started off as a driver, but then switched over to being the throttleman for Victory 7. One of his career highs came when Victory 7 went on to clinch third place at the British Grand Prix in Plymouth.

As a jet-ski driver, Bin Hindi has always excelled. So success is not something that is new to him. He has a love for visiting the podium as a jet-ski driver, and he hopes to carry this affinity to the podium during his Class One career too.

Aref Saif Al Zafeen - Driver: Victory 77
Date of Birth: September 1, 1974
Place of Birth: Dubai
Residence: Dubai

Aref Al Zafeen is the latest addition on the Victory Team combination. Going into his first season, Al Zafeen will take over as the driver in Victory 77 with Frenchman Jean Marc Sanchez as his throttleman.

In an attempt to further his powerboating career, Al Zafeen has been sponsored by His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai at the Formula One World Powerboat Championship.

Al Zafeen made his competitive debut almost 15 years ago in wooden powerboats, and he comes into Class One racing with an impressive track record picking up the Formula 2000 Championships for getting all his accolades and experience.

Jean Marc Sanchez - Throttleman: Victory 77
Date of Birth: March 27, 1961
Place of Birth: St. Tropez, France
Residence: Dubai

Jean Marc Sanchez has seen it all during a chequered and demanding career in Class One. The Frenchman made a comeback in 2004 after a 12-year self-inflicted sabbatical from the Class One fold.

Stepping up from Victory Team crew chief duties in 2004 to replace Saeed Humaid Al Tayer in Victory 77, Sanchez proved to be the perfect throttleman to partner 2001 world champion driver Mohammad Al Marri – the last time the men in blue delivered a world title.

Last year, Sanchez partnered Al Marri to land second place in the world championship – separated by a mere two points from world champion Spirit of Norway.

The Frenchman made his Class One debut in 1986 racing with French team Leader before going on to join forces with Italian team Rainbow in 1989. In 1991, Sanchez transferred to Achilles Motors until he joined Victory Team in 1992.

Mohammad Al Marri - Driver Co-ordinator
Date of Birth: February 2, 1962
Place of Birth: Dubai, UAE
Residence: Dubai

Mohammad Al Marri will be the reserve driver and the driver co-ordinator for the new season. This is a new appointment and it has been made to ensure that the young breed of drivers benefit from having an experienced hand to guide them.

He made his Class One debut in 1999, swiftly establishing himself as one of the team’s most successful sporting stars. He clinched his first UIM Class One World Championship title alongside Saeed Humaid Al Tayer in 2001.

He knows he has the experience to back him on this aspect. In 2005, Al Marri took Victory Team to the 2005 Middle East Championship title along with a second place in the World Championship standings, a feat that he repeated last season with Sanchez.


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