Team Abu Dhabi’s Rashid Al-Mulla made a stunning start to his challenge for honours in the Freestyle category of the UIM-ABP Aquabike World Championship by winning the Moto 1 heat at the opening round in Gallipoli on Saturday afternoon.
The 31-year-old Emirati had been the class of the field during the Pole Position session on Friday on his Xscream 1200rr and followed that with a spectacular array of spins and water acrobatics during his exhilarating session on the Italian water in front of the panel of judges.
The world-renowned Slovenian Florjancic brothers, Rok and Nac, did not register for the opening round of the series and that opened the door for Al-Mulla and his closest rivals to challenge for early season points.
Al-Mulla, therefore, lined up against world number one Roberto Mariani, fellow Italian Alberto Camerlengo, Portugal’s Paulo Nunes and Russia’s Alexander Kuramshin for the opening practice sessions.
Mariani finished second in Moto 1, after outscoring the Team Abu Dhabi artist on variety but being outclassed by him in terms of style. Camerlengo finished third and Kuramshin was pipped to fourth place by Nunes.
Etihad Airways is the official carrier for Team Abu Dhabi that is also supported by the Abu Dhabi Sports Council and runs under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Dr. Sultan Bin Khalifa Al-Nahyan, advisor to the Head of State and chairman of the board of directors of the Abu Dhabi International Marine Sports Club and under the guidance of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Sultan Bin Khalifa Al-Nahyan, Vice-President and CEO of the ADIMSC.
The racing team runs under the umbrella of the ADIMSC, board member and general manager Salem Al-Remeithi.
Qualifying is largely irrelevant in the Freestyle discipline and takes on far less significance than it does for the Ski Division and Runabout entrants. The five riders took to the water at the end of the session on Friday afternoon.
Kuramshin headed out on to the water first and opened his three-minute routine with a nice series of back flips, somersaults and one-handed turns in front of the VIP tents to score 39 points. Rome-based Mariani was next out and started with a series of four back flips and 360 and 180 degree spins and completed the routine with his customary ‘fountain’ finale.
He topped the scoring in the variety category, matched Al-Mulla in quantity but was outdone by the Emirati in style and scored 81 points.
Camerlengo’s Richter boat sported a new livery and he was the third out on to the water. The Italian delivered a series of impressive back-flips and was classified in third position with 52 points.
Series debutant Nunes offered a mix of spins and flips to amass 35 points before Al-Mulla took to the water to wrap up the afternoon’s racing. He began with a spectacular combination of barrel-rolls and speed 360s and 180s and continued to impress right through his stint in a tight area of real estate in front of the judges. He scored well for variety, quantity and style to claim pole with 90 points.
There will be a second competitive heat on Sunday.