Adrian is riding on the crest of a wave

Zabo Racing in full flight in Abu Dhabi. PICTURE: Raffaello Bastiani
Zabo Racing in full flight in Abu Dhabi. PICTURE: Raffaello Bastiani
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In the fast paced, high octane world of powerboat racing there is a Portstewart man who is riding on the crest of a wave.

When he’s back ‘home’ on the north coast Adrian Annett goes about his business with little fuss, but it’s so far removed from his day job as Team Manager of the Zabo Racing powerboat team.

Team Manager Adrian Annett.

Team Manager Adrian Annett.

Adrian oversaw the Norwegian team’s most successful ever season last year as they finished second in the Class 1 World Championship. Not bad for a team which has only been racing for four years.

But how does a man from Northern Ireland end up involved with water’s version of Formula One?

“Class 1 is the pinnacle of powerboat racing, quite simply there is nothing bigger and nothing faster. It’s the Formula One Motorsport of powerboat racing,” Adrian told Times Sport.

“It’s a bit overwhelming for me personally at times as I’m this wee boy from Northern Ireland, yet on paper I’m team manager for one of the world’s best teams in the pinnacle series of world powerboat racing. Its a huge honour to be part of such a team, but working with professionals at that level keeps your feet firmly planted on the ground..... there is no room for ego’s!

Zabo Racing in action.

Zabo Racing in action.

“The sport has a worldwide audience of 600-700 million people.

“In the countries where it is really big like the Middle East and Italy for example they broadcast every race live in the same way as you would get football here in the UK.

“It’s a very surreal lifestyle. I’ve become friends with people I never ever thought would be possible from members of royal families to world leaders in business and even fashion designers. I find myself socialising with these guys and it’s no different from sitting with my lifelong friends back home.

“I came up through the ranks in terms of understanding building cruise ships. I was a project manager for Disney. I spent a lot of years building cruise ships in Italy and Finland

“It’s obviously a completely different world, but while I was there I met folk who were involved in racing.

“When I went to Norway a good friend of mine was involved in powerboat racing and I got to know the boys in ZaboRacing very well. I realised they had no media outlet, everyone was being totally dependent on the Class 1 website.

“I’ve spent a lot of years building websites, it’s a wee hobby I have. So I developed a simple website and collated all the news stories and video specifically about ZaboRacing. Someone rang the team owner, Jan Zaborowski and told him and he contacted me and said this is exactly what they needed.

“The team was created in May 2010 and he rang me and invited me to the first race. I went down for a look and took a few photographs. He realised I could speak a bit of Italian as well as Norwegian and had some management experience so he asked me to step in alongside him because he had been doing the role of Team Manager as well as being Team Owner.

“So I shadowed him. I was able to help him out in meetings as sometimes things were being lost in translation. It actually finished up with a lot of people coming to me to check, define or clarify documents because English is the regulation language for all meetings and correspondence.

“Jan then came to me and said he wanted me to take the role over in its totallity.

“My job is team manager. I don’t have anything to do with the mechanical or technical side of things.

“We have a crew chief and mechanics who are world leaders in their different areas. They bring many many years of top level racing experience with them.

“I know my place and let them get on with things.

“The best way to describe my role is to say I’m like a conductor. I build a brick wall around these people so they have no distractions and are focused on their own specific job.

“As team manager I’m totally responsible and the single person that the UIM, the governing body, the scrutineers and the race director can and will only speak to. I am the primary point of contact.

“All information comes through me and I divide it up and relay it to the specific people.

“As far as the boat in the water goes I liaise between the two pilots, the race director and the crew chief in the pits during the race. If there is a problem the pilots will come to me and we will get it sorted for them.

“I also play quite a bit in tactics. I would sit down with the owner, the crew chief and the pilots before a race and we would work out how we approach it. There’s a lot of factors to take on board as regards the set up of the boat according to weather conditions for example... what gearing to use or propellers, if we want speed on the straights or torque out of the turns.

“It’s important for me because I need to have a picture in my head of what we should be doing and where we should be at certain points in the race. I can stand blind and literally count down to the split second as to when the boat will appear in view again.

“If they’re not there at that split second then I’m asking where they are and what is wrong.”

Like any high speed sport there are risks especially given the scale of the boats.

“The best way to describe Class 1 is to think of taking a 40 foot truck, racing at Formula One Motorsport speeds on a World Rally Championship stage,” explained Adrian.

“We are taking a boat which is 14 feet wide, 42 feet long, weighs over five tonnes fully loaded with fuel and can potentially produce 2,700 bhp achieving a top speed of over 170mph bouncing over the waves.

“A race takes around 40 minutes to complete.

“At those kinds of speeds, water acts like glue, so the only thing we really want in the water are the props and that comes down to the expertise of the pilots on the water and crew chief in setting up the boat.

“I lost a very good friend in a crash in Gabon last year, but unfortunately it’s the nature of the sport because of the speed the boats are going.

“We have a great bunch of safety guys though who sit at every danger point and are on every accident in a matter of seconds. But the risks are there like any high speed sport.

“I’ve only been in the boat once out in the open water and until you’re doing around 100mph you cant see anything. It’s like sitting in the cab of a 40 foot truck and trying to see the ground in front of you.

“Until the boat comes up on to the plane all you see is sky. But I can tell you once you go over 100mph the sweat soon comes on you and its a very frightening environment.

“I think I’ll stick to the dry land, it suits me better!”

The sport is very popular in Europe, the Midlde East and Asia so as you can imagine Adrian clocks up a lot of miles in the year.

“The season runs the full calendar year. To move the entire Class-1 circus is a huge logistical operation, but we are very fortunate to have a real professional team who manage it all for us.

“Most teams run three 40 foot trucks - 1 for the boat, 1 workshop truck and another for spares and hospitality. We can’t use planes to transport from destination to destination, everything has to be shipped,” he said.

“Normally an event will last for three days. The first day is practice, we race on day two and day three, but we also have a third event called pole position were teams race against the clock to decide their starting position on the grid.

“We would normally arrive three or four days before an event starts and then we leave one or two days once its over.

“The gap between races is totally dependent on where the next race is at.

“We pack everything up in our trucks after the event and it is shipped en masse to the next venue.

“The gap between China and Italy for example could be at least three months because our boats all have to come down round South Africa.

“We normally like there to be six races per season - two in Europe, two in the Middle East and one each in Asia and the Americas.

“The money involved in the sport is frightening and sponsorship plays a huge part in making it happen, but even that is more difficult under the present world economic conditions - every sport is feeling the pinch.

Adrian would love to bring the ‘Class-1 circus’ as he calls it to Northern Ireland some day, but as he said money could prove the stumbling block.

“People ask me about bringing a round to Belfast. To make that happen we would firstly need a local promoter to put up a few hundred thousand Euros,” he said.

“They raced in Northern Ireland many years ago but not in the same format as we have today.

“There’s no reason why we couldn’t bring it here, Belfast Lough would be a fantastic venue for it.

“Off Portstewart would be another fantastic venue, we are offshore powerboat racing after all, so the rough water would be excellent for us. Ironically, the limiting factor is the safety crews gaining access in the event of an accident, but other than that, we are designed for the big waves.

“Personally it would be a fantastic buzz for me to race here, it really would be very special.

“The best buzz though would probably taking all the crew and my mates on a tour of the local bars, show them some real Irish hospitality and that we are all crazy.... not just me!

“We are a Norwegian team and being the team manager for a Norwegian team is a huge honour.

“They are very passionate about powerboating, and the times we have raced in Norway we have received special treatment and the crowds are right behind you.

“It would be nice to experience that from a Northern Irish perspective.”

So after finishing second last year is Adrian gunning to finish this year as World Champions?

“We set ourselves a three year plan when I came on board,” he said.

“The first year was really development and evolvement of the team, Jan wanted to bring in a strong team of specialised people around him.

“The following year was to evolve and develop the hull, engines and bring everything else together. Simple little things like moving the engines five centimetres forward or backwards changes the whole balance of things.

“And last year in 2013 we decided we were going to go for it. We should have won the World Championship this year, we made the podium in every event. But we made silly mistakes at times.

“We badly damaged the boat in China. We were coming into the first turn fighting for 1st place and caught a dirty wave and flipped over, did a 360 barrel role and split the deck - at 140mph in a 5 ton monster, the water is like concrete, and hence why we have F16 fighter jet standard cockpits, otherwise in accidents like that, the pilots do not walk away.

“Everyone thought the crash would finish us as they thought it would take us eight or nine months to get back in the water again, but we had it completely repaired within nine weeks.

“We only have the one boat because to buy it to that specification would probably cost several million Euros for just the hull alone.

“We will definitely be throwing everything at going one better this year.

“We learnt so much last season, we know where we can improve and what we have to do for the year ahead. It’s shaping up to be another exciting year for us.”

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