A record crowd witnessed the opening round of the 2016 Australian V8 Superboats Championship last weekend at Lake Wyangan in Griffith, New South Wales, Australia with the series regulars turning in a stunning display of racing under lights much to the great pleasure of the thousands assembled on the bank. Despite a number of boats coming out of the water through qualifying and the finals, it was very much status-quo in the Unlimited class with three-time champion Phonsy Mullan claiming the win in the final, although he needed two boats to do it as his impressive twin-turbo machine eliminated in Q2 with a rare mechanical issue.
Mullan may have claimed the win but he was pushed every step of the way by recently crowned world No. 4 Jamie Welch, former champion Daryl Hutton and the Sygidus brothers who had overcome a number of teething problems during 2015 with Frankenzstain.
In the 400 Class there was always going to be a new name etched into the history books with the teams that have dominated the category over the last decade taking a sabbatical, in the end Queenslander Brad Marsden drove a calculating race, leaving his big run until the final to claim the win over former 350 Class champion Brett Thornton.
Phonsy Mullan started the 2016 season in dominant fashion. Photos courtesy/copyright Sean Henshelwood/2016 Australian V8 Superboat Championships
With four qualifiers starting mid-afternoon, the setting sun was always going to present a challenge, but to that point teams had an opportunity to dial themselves in ahead of the finals which were scheduled to begin after 7 p.m.
The experienced teams went out hard. Mullan’s stunning Q2 time of 37.735 raised the bar to a point where he was unchallenged heading into the finals, while behind him former champion Daryl Hutton, Jamie Welch and Ted Sygidus battled over the top three.
Two-time Unlimited Superboat champion Hutton—a former winner at Griffith—that his weekend didn’t quite go to plan, a monster “off’ in the closing stages of the first qualifier forcing a change of strategy.
“As we came around to cross the line, the boat just jumped out of the water, it was a scary moment,” the New Zealander admitted. “We were heading straight for the timing tower, but I managed to crank on the wheel and spin it up the bank fortunately without any serious damage, but it was a scary ride.”
After suffering a similar fate in the second qualifier, the jetboat veteran elected for a conservative approach to avoid any further dramas, and despite carrying strong pace into the finals, he missed a berth in the final three.
Soak and Fused ended up on the grass but the team members escaped injury.
While Hutton was one of a number of boats to eject themselves from the water, no-one suffered any serious damage, although a late session off in the final qualifier did force Sportsman class front-runner Ben Hathaway to invest in some panel work before the finals.
Of the new competitors to the sport, there were a few out of water excursions, one of the biggest for Temora’s Scott Krause who made his debut in Unlimited Superboat, fitting a supercharged 372-cubic-inch V8 ski-race motor into Soak’n Fused, the thunderous black boat finding the grass in the opening qualifier without damage. Fortunately it didn’t deter the rookie driver, who returned to the delight of the crowd to run some competitive times on debut despite some inherent challenges with the new package.
The Unlimited teams certainly delivered for the building crowd through qualifying, but the 400-Class field also saw some impressive runs, notably from returning competitors Jody Ely and Justin Roylance in Rampage, while Dave Moody in Ely’s old boat Jackhammer also put on an impressive display, although once the qualifiers were over, it was former 350-Class champions Brooke Lucas and Brett Thornton who emerged at the top of the timesheets.
Despite being forced into his ‘backup boat’ for the third qualifier after discovering a water leak in the exhaust, Mullan still managed to top qualify in his naturally-aspirated 500-cubic-inch machine, although he admitted that the boat had seen little work in recent years due to his investment in his twin-turbo program.
“We brought it with us in case there was a chance to sell it, but I’m glad we did,” Mullan said. “One of the crew noticed something coming out of the exhaust, we’re not sure what it is until we pull it down, so we decided to change boats to avoid any further potential damage. We hadn’t run the ‘old girl’ for years, and didn’t even have a jack shaft on it, I was a bit nervous about how it would go, and it did a few wiggles up the straight—just little teething things—but in the end we topped the session which surprised me a little.”
From qualifying to the finals, Mullan and the RAMJET team kept improving the boat to the point where his final run in the top three was faster than the twin-turbo package, handing him his first big win of the year.
Second in the end went to Jamie Welch, the West Australian admitting that his lap in the final was one out of the box. “I don’t know where it came from, but I’m glad it did,” he laughed post session as he congratulated Mullan on the win, whilst third was Darek Sygidus who turned a typically conservative but consistent run to round out the podium.
“I’m pretty happy with that, we got the boat pretty well sorted ahead of this round and spent some time fine tuning it,” he said. “I’m just disappointed for Ted he didn’t make the final with me.”
Quick through qualifying and running in the top three for most of the day, Ted Sygidus came into the second final in position two, but despite being on a stunning lap the former Group A champion came out of the water in the final stages of the lap after just grabbing the tyres in the dark.
“It’s getting tougher and tougher to determine the edge of the tires and I just went in a bit deep,” he admitted afterward. “It’s a pity because we were on a quick run, good enough to get us into the final, but it wasn’t to be. The good thing is that the boat is coming along nicely, we’re really getting on top of the package now, so we should be able to take the fight to the leaders across the rest of the year.”
Fourth overall in the Unlimited class was Hutton who continued to take a conservative approach through the finals to score valuable championship points, while fifth was a driver who’d been missing from the sport for a few years—former world champion Slade Stanley.
Originally slated to drive a brand new hull, the Hazardous driver was unable to sort the package ahead of Griffith, instead jumping into Allcott Transformer alongside Brad Marsden to score points prior to the debut of his new boat, a situation which while not ideal, certainly had a flow on effect for the boat owner who went on to claim his maiden 400-Class victory.
Cheryl Welch claimed seventh overall, just missing the cut for the second final after a rare off in the darkening conditions, just pipping fellow Superboat veteran Paul Burgess who turned in an impressive run through the qualifiers to be just off the tail of the top five.
In the 400-Class the final looked like it would be a battle of the Queenslanders, with Brooke Lucas, Brett Thornton and Brad Marsden battling over the podium, but in the end there was a surprise visitor to the final three after an accident and an off in the second final eliminated three of the leading challengers.
Former 350-Class champion Brooke Lucas turned a conservative daytime approach into raw speed as the lights came on, the experienced campaigner the likely winner ahead of an out of water experience in the top six final, eliminating Trouble Maker on the spot.
Returning 400-Class driver Justin Roylance was next to go with a tire riding experience at the top of the circuit and a small fuel fire which ended his impressive run in Jody Ely’s new boat, whilst the boat-owner also impressed, running for a place in the final before a fuel pump failure on the ramp ended their weekend.
“This was very much a last minute deal to get it altogether, but we had a blast,” said Roylance “The hull was the ex-Kamakazi that no-one had any real great success with, and in fact it looked destined for the scrap heap, but because my new boat and Jody‘s new boat weren’t ready, we ‘cobbled’ this together and what a package it was. In the end we qualified in the top three and Jody was in the final before we lost the fuel pump, and we could very well have gone on for the win. It gives us great hope heading into the next round at Temora, and I can tell you it was a thrill to drive, I was absolutely rapt to be back in a boat.”
While frustration for the Ely-Roylance team, their retirement along with the elimination of Kev Laugesen in the top six after running at podium pace early in the day, and Brooke Lucas with a DNF in the first final meant that Sportsman class competitor Ben Hathway qualified for the 400-Class final after a terrific run despite an off in qualifying.
Cheryl Welch claimed seventh overall, just missing the cut for the second final after a rare off in the darkening conditions.
Ultimately Brad Marsden, aided by ‘teammate’ Slade Stanley tuning the boat, turned in a brilliant drive to claim the win, with Thornton second, while Hathaway put in a blinder in the final to come within eight tenths of a second of the second step of the podium, in the process taking maximum points for the Sportsman class.
The second round of the 2016 Australian V8 Superboats Championship will be another single-day event at Allcott Hire Park at Lake Centenary in Temora on 23 April, an event which will also see the running of the inaugural Colin Paris Memorial Trophy, and be run as an ANZAC Day tribute.
2016 Australian Superboat Championships Schedule
Round No. 1—March 26, Griffith (NSW)
Round No. 2—April 23, Temora (NSW) – ANZAC Day Tribute
Round No. 3—May 21, Temora (NSW)
Round No. 4—August 6-7, Tweed Coast (NSW)
Round No. 5—September 3-4, Tweed Coast (NSW)
Round No. 6 — October 1, Temora (NSW)
Round No. 7—October 29, Temora (NSW) (Final)