IJSBA World Offshore Championship A Total Success!

Story By FFM Staff

The eleventh edition of the IJSBA (International Jet Sport Boating Association) World Championship took place during the weekend of June 11-13, 2004, on the island of Oléron in the Charentes-Maritimes region of France. In addition to about 300 riders who had entered the Enduro, which is reserved for amateurs, 80 riders from thirteen different countries came to this island off the west coast of France in pursuit of this highly coveted title. Among them, the two world speed stars: seven-time World Champion Nicolas Rius (YAMAHA) of France, and American Chris MacClugage (KAWASAKI), a nine-time World Champion. Even though both riders went home empty-handed, beaten by the offshore experts as a result of particularly difficult navigation conditions, this 2004 edition is sure to be remembered for a long time to come.

   In order to keep up with the constant performance evolution of the machines, the organizers have continued to lengthen the course. This year, the organizers decided to add a day of competition. This proved to be an excellent initiative, because never in its entire history had the race been so hard-fought over the 500-kilometer route.

   The line-up, it must be said, was superb; in addition to Rius and MacClugage – veritable legends in the watercraft racing world – there were no less than fifteen strong contenders for victory, starting with the Corsican riders on the KAWASAKI team, which has held the title for three years. Among them were Jean Pierre Simonini, a favorite along with his friend and team mate Jean François Multari (winner in 2001 and 2002), and Tony Manenti, the defending champion. Antoine Leca and François Medori completed the list of potential winners. As for the mainland inhabitants, four-time champion Joël Bontoux (YAMAHA), Cyrille Lemoine and Brice Aracil (SEA DOO), and Franky Zapata and Dominique Barreau for KAWASAKI were also capable of preventing the trophy’s return to Corsica. Of the riders from the rest of Europe, the Portuguese riders Alessandro Balzer and Filipe Filipe (KAWASAKI), English rider Russel Marmon and the Spaniard Augustin Moreno Martos (SEA DOO) had the best chances of victory.

   Unfortunately, as of Friday evening, after the first day’s racing on a 140-km route consisting of 6 laps of a circuit mapped out between the Port of Douhet and Fort Boyard, only 5 riders were left in the running for the title. In effect, the difficult navigation conditions very quickly wreaked havoc with many of the top riders’ machines. From Rius (gas pipe torn away) to Lemoine (pierced oil radiator), Balzeur (broken engine), Leca (electrical failure), Marmon (smashed shell) and Felipe, it was a real massacre. Added to the disqualification of Joël Bontoux because of a careless route error, and Barreau’s wrist injury, this left only the winner of the day, Simonini, his heir apparent Multari, MacClugage in third place, and Zapata and Manenti, 4th and 5th respectively, in contention for the title.

   Saturday’s laps of the island (220 km) were therefore set to be the deciding factor, particularly since the difficult conditions encountered the day before were, in fact, just a little taste of what lay in store for the riders in the second round. So it was in a strong westerly wind and on very rough seas that the 65 survivors set off. In these tough conditions, Chris MacClugage made swift work of the route on his super fuel efficient and high-performance KAWASAKI STX 1500 F, leaving Jean Pierre Simonini and Jean François Multari trailing over 7 minutes behind. Franky Zapata from Marseilles was the only one able to keep up with Mac’s furious pace. However, a navigation error after overtaking the American caused him to lose almost 20 minutes and fall back to 8th place in this round and 3rd place in the provisional rankings.

   However, this second day was to offer the 5,000 on-site spectators more than one dramatic turn of events and countless developments. There were the mechanical breakdowns suffered by Manenti, Rius and Lagaf’, and the disqualification of MacClugage after the race director observed the leader’s route error from his helicopter. Mac had, in fact, simply forgotten to take a buoy off the port of La Côtinière in the first lap. Thus, after checking the footage from the onboard camera in the race director’s helicopter, Jean Pierre Simonini was declared winner of this second round, ahead of Jean François Multari and the father-son Medori duo, who crossed the finish line in 4th and 3rd place respectively. Behind them, Joël Bontoux was back in a position worthy of his talent and track record.

   So, on the evening of the finish, with two victories, the title seemed to be on the horizon for Simonini, who had had a run of bad luck at Oléron for several years. Sunday was therefore a mere formality, particularly since the wind had shifted to the north and a glassy sea awaited the competitors for the last lap of the island, this time in the other direction. Simonini had announced that he would manage his lead to spare his KAWASAKI STX 1200 R with its two-stroke engine that was high-performance but more fragile than a four-stroke, and his heir apparent Multari had declared that he was prepared to help his team mate pocket the title, the two friends dreaming of pulling off a one-two. So victory in this last stage could only go to a rider with nothing to lose, and was claimed by Chris MacClugage. Not without some difficulty, however, because Nicolas Rius, in a sudden burst of pride, held the lead for the whole race on a YAMAHA GP 1200 R finally made reliable.

   Unfortunately, having decided not to refuel, the rider from Marseilles (Rius) ran out of gas in the home stretch, just 2 km from the finish line. This was the final dramatic turn in this 2004 edition won by Jean Pierre Simonini, a young man whose victory can be credited not only to his talent, but also to an obstinacy and willpower seen in few riders at Oléron to date. The highly experienced Bernard Tinghir took first place in the Standard category with his KAWASAKI STX 15 F, ahead of Didier Demicheli and Sébastien Porcher, both on the same type of machine.

   A total success therefore for the green team, who made a clean sweep of all the podiums in this World Championship, as well as in the Enduro, with Laurent Limousin in the S category, Christophe Boulestier in F2 and Christophe Gachet in the four-stroke category. In the stand-up jet skis category, Ludovic Caumont once again rode to victory on his POLARIS Octane.

   In the final analysis, we cannot help but declare another resounding success for Jet Sport Compétition and Oléron Jet Organisation, helped along the way by exceptional weather conditions and extremely challenging navigation conditions. But beyond these factors – from the team of organizers to the volunteers helping with the safety arrangements, and the race direction and team of stewards – this World Championship was handled to perfection and will be remembered as one of the best editions of recent years.