While Pal Zileri was expecting to make the most of its superior speed and eventually pull away from the pack, defending champions Horizon FCB, currently lying second in the title race, were in a group of boats close behind waiting to pounce on any mistakes.
The pack included new Grand Soleil 37 yacht Art Marine 2, skippered by last year's runner up, Australian Mark FIELBERG, as well as his 2005 boat, Goodrich Serdal, now in the capable hands of one of the UAE's most experienced sailors, Paul DILWORTH.
In north westerly winds of around 15 knots there was a good early pace, although the real challenge lay ahead as the boats headed into the darkness and the crews faced a test of concentration and endurance.
While the smaller boats like the 36.7 foot Horizon all gain ground with the help of the handicap system used for the Maktoum Trophy, Pal Zileri still appeared to be on course to extend their overall lead in the series.
They had set off from Dubai International Marine Club with a new look, all local crew. The boat's owner, Kristian TZANOV (BUL), is involved in powerboat racing this weekend, while the three Italian professionals who helped secure victory in the two previous rounds have not been called on this time.
'Our aim is to get away from the pack,' said skipper Francis CARR (UAE). 'If we don't then there's something terribly wrong. In an overnight race like this it's vitally important to stay alert and maintain your concentration, and we're all motivated.'
Owned by Sheikh Khaled BIN ZAYED AL NAHYAN, Horizon was hoping to close the gap on Pal Zileri this weekend, and joint French skippers Christophe VANEK and Alain FÉDENSIEU were calling on all their experience to get the best out of their crew.
'The Maktoum Trophy is a great event and we're very happy to be part of it,' said Vanek
after the skippers had received a final briefing from regatta chairman Sid BENSALAH, sailing director at Dubai International Marine Club.
'Pal Zileri has a good crew and is well organized and will be difficult to beat, but it's not over until the fat lady sings. It's possibly between us and them, although Switchblade [skippered by David ROSTANT (UAE)] is not far away and anything can happen in a race like this.'
While the Class 1 boats were tackling a 110 nautical mile course, the Class 2 challengers, who are headed by Gil SMITH's (NZL) Blitzem, were negotiating a course of 75 nautical miles. The first boat was expected to reach the finish at Dubai Offshore Sailing Club in the late morning.
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