Shortly before the final F1H20 event of 2023, rumours of multiple F1 driver and team management changes for 2024 began circulating in corridors within of the sport’s sanctioning body, Union International Motonautique (U.I.M).
Motorsport fans know it as “The Silly Season," where insiders and fans alike rightly or wrongly contemplate driver moves from one team to another. There are usually several New-to-F1 drivers being considered too, anxiously awaiting an opportunity to walk into the pits carrying a freshly painted helmet adorned with sponsor logos.
As hard work, talent and perhaps a little fate would have it, early in the morning of January 23, 2024, U.I.M. announced that Canada’s Rusty Wyatt of Innisfil, Ontario, had been signed as the number one driver for Sharjah Team, based in the UAE. The Emirate recently took over American Scott Gillman’s team, Gillman Racing, which was bought by Sharjah Marine, a company representing the Sharjah International Sports Club. Gillman, a four-time, UIM F1 World Champion, has been retained as Team Manager, as has Sharjah's second driver, Filip Roms.
When the news broke, Wyatt’s reaction was, as he says, “One of Excitement, humbled and grateful to Team Sharjah and Scott Gillman”. I asked Rusty how long discussions have been carrying on between his Canadian team and Sharjah, and he replied, “Scott Gillman spoke to us last summer about our current series in the U.S., but we never spoke about U.I.M./ F1H2O until a month ago. We were a team that had only participated in the American F1 Series since joining it in 2021, and in two years we’ve had many podium finishes and two wins. I think my abilities were recognized by Scott Gillman."
“It’s a dream come true,” said Mark Major, Wyatt’s current team manager of the Crystal Clear Wiper Team. Major is a former F1 driver himself. As a racer, Mark competed throughout North America for 23 years, earning a speed record along with several Canadian National and Hi-Point Championships.
In 2021, the writer travelled to Lake Havasu City for the final race of that season. It was obvious that Rusty was quick, confident and persistent. Grand Prix is a tough and dangerous sport. When you fly across waves at speeds approaching 150 mph, a driver needs to be in good shape, mentally and physically. When asked what Wyatt does to stay on top of his game, Wyatt said, “I love the outdoors - cottaging, personal boating, snowmobiling and more. I’m a fun-loving guy who enjoys meeting people, handy and enjoy working with anything mechanical. In my personal life, I think I’m big-hearted."
At 28 years of age, Rusty Wyatt is also respectful, carrying with him an air of maturity beyond his years. He credits his faithful backers, team co-owners Mark Major and Kevin McConnell, with setting the stage. He now has the world in front of him - at least parts of it that are far away from his native land. Racing at this level, and with every Grand Prix scheduled overseas this season, I asked Rusty how his nerves were standing up. “This opportunity is beyond words, he replied. "I’m excited for sure, perhaps a bit nervous, but who wouldn’t be? I want to enjoy this and represent Sharjah Team well. Our goals are simple; finish every race, learn all we can and respect other drivers on the water. My number one goal is to make our team proud."
Wyatt’s Canadian crew includes Ray Wyatt and Mark Major on radios, Mack Jones as crew chief and PTR Engines, led by talented engineering developers, Alex Hledin and Greg Crossley. Riding with the team in spirit will be three beloved members who lost their lives in recent years, Ted Gryguc, Andros Lepik, and Rusty’s father, Randy Wyatt, who set his son in his first race boat at age 15.
There are six F1H20 events on the calendar for 2024, with the season opener scheduled for February 23-25 at Balige-Lake Toba, one of the Super Priority Tourism destinations in North Sumatra, Indonesia. Without a doubt, Wyatt and his Canadian crew will have their eyes wide open and focused on preparing their ultra-fast Mercury 2.5 Litre engine and DAC Tunnel Hull for their debut Grand Prix.
Following Indonesia, F1 Powerboat Racing schedule moves to Qui Nhon-Binh Province in Vietnam, Olbia, Italy, TBC Albania, TBC China, Asia, and finally Sharjah, UAE for the “Road to Sharjah" Grand Prix.