The results of the opening round of the 2018 Penrite UIM World Series in Keith, Australia, may have been somewhat expected with a seven-time world champion claiming the top points in the Unlimited Superboat field and the reigning New Zealand champion leading the way in International Group A, but a look at the standings only gives half the picture of what had been an epic championship-opener Spitwater Arena.
In the opening round of the 2018 Penrite UIM World Series, the battle between seven-time Australian champion Phonsy Mullan and Peter Caughey was simply epic. Photos courtesy/copyright Russell Puckeridge/Pureart Creative Images.
You could sense something special was going to happen the moment you drove into the Keith Showgrounds facility, the presentation wowing the most experienced New Zealanders who had been treated to a variety of world class facilities in the past, even the most outspoken of them admitted that Keith had taken the sport to a whole new level of professionalism.
Under pristine blue skies with a light westerly wind—almost perfect conditions for the sport—the teams set off for practice, and very quickly one thing became clear, the rotation would be a huge challenge, with as much as half the 42-boat field failing at the first test.
By the time they got the rotation right though, it was down to business and the action started to intensify with every lap.
As expected, the battle between seven-time world champion Peter Caughey and seven-time Australian champion Phonsy Mullan was proving to be the star attraction, the two of them circulating at first three seconds faster than anyone else in the field. As the schedule clicked around to the finals though, their rivals started to close in, a setback for Caughey in the third qualifier paving the way for Mullan to claim the top spot, the Australian dishing out a return serve the following run to set the fastest time of the day.
From there though Caughey showed his rivals just why he is still ranked as the best jetsprinter in the history of the sport to slash six tenths off Mullan’s best in the second final, before going on to take the final by a margin of 1.46-seconds, Mullan second with New Zealand’s Nick Berryman just four tenths of a second behind.
In Group A Ollie Silverton was dishing out a similar lesson to his rivals, the only glitch in an otherwise perfect weekend, an engine warning light which prompted a shutdown part way around his fourth qualifier, the reigning NZ champion admitting that the PSP Racing team were suffering a mechanical issue, although you wouldn’t have known it with the pace he set in the final—less than three seconds slower than Peter Caughey.
Caughey put on a clinic in the Unlimited Superboat class.
Ross Travers claimed second albeit almost two seconds slower than Silverton, with Australia’s Justin Roylance continuing his giant killing effort to claim third as first local driver home, although he admitted afterwards he was a little frustrated not to have taken Travers for second after beating him in the third final to be second fastest overall.
With a number of teams battling to get their navigation correct the first qualifier began relatively sedately, although there was nothing sedate about the battle at the top of the timesheets with Peter Caughey and Phonsy Mullan kicking off their world series campaigns with two stunning laps, the pair separated by just 12 one hundredths by the close of the session—advantage Caughey, the two of them 1.5-seconds faster than Mullan’s 2017 nemesis Tremayne Jukes who was third. Game on.
By Q2 Caughey had stepped up the pace finding an incredible two and a half seconds, Mullan too going quicker but the reigning New Zealand champion had stretched the advantage to almost nine tenths of a second, while Paul Gaston (in the boat that took Jukes to four season wins in 2017) was third, although he had ultimately fired his one and only bullet, a head gasket failure (the second in four weeks) sidelining Heatseeker for day two.
Australia’s Justin Roylance continuing his giant killing effort to claim third.
Most impressive on day one was West Australian Rachael Swarts. The giant killer who had claimed second outright at Keith earlier in the year in the Unlimited class (in her LS powered machine), was at it again, her 427ci naturally-aspirated Chev pushing her to fourth in Q1 and fifth in Q2 ahead of a number of drivers enjoying a significant horsepower advantage.
By the close of Saturday’s two qualifiers, the field had a great mix of stories, with the top half of the field well represented by all three competing countries, Baden Gray joining Caughey for New Zealand, while USA champion Kyle Patrick ended Q2 as the eighth fastest qualifier ahead of an impressive Daniel de Voigt and Mick Carroll.
The pits though weren’t all success stories, two-time world champion Slade Stanley was struggling to get in a lap, the Australian still unclassified in the new Hazardous machine, while Scott Krause, Rob Coley and Nick Berryman were all struggling to perfect the rotation, leaving a number of concerned faces as the sun set on another glorious South Australian spring day.
Sadly for two-time Australian champion Daryl Hutton, he was in for a long night, a fuel and injector issue with his new twin-turbo 400-cubic-inch machine distorting a couple of exhaust valves prompting the sourcing of new parts ahead of Sunday’s third qualifier, Hutton wondering what he needed to do to cut a break.
As always, a good night of sleep always presents things in a better light, the field lining up for the final two qualifiers to set the grid for the first final, and with 22 boats all vying for a position in the top 16, each lap was becoming more vital.
Sadly for Slade Stanley, his chances of returning to a World Series podium were starting to slip away, the Wagga-based builder suffering a DNF in his run after setting a stunning first sector, a warning light on the dash prompting him to shut down the new 480-cubic-inch naturally aspirated machine—fortunately a post-run inspection revealed nothing nasty, but he had just one last chance to qualify.
Peter Caughey too pulled out of his third run, the Trojan sponsored Sprintec pulling out after ingesting some grass into the jet unit, prompting Caughey to pull back into the pit pool and retire from the run.
As he has done over past seasons of the Penrite Australian championships, Mullan used that setback for Caughey to raise the bar a little higher, topping Rob Coley in Q3 to set the mark at 50.748, a tenth faster than Caughey’s Q2 time but 1.4-seconds faster than Coley and almost three seconds faster than fellow 2018 Australian champion Scott Krause.
Nick Berryman by this stage was starting to fire going to P4 with Tremayne Jukes and Rachael Swarts not far behind.
Mullan dished out another top performance in Q4, the RAMJET driver lowering the bar to a 50.249 to go 37 one hundredths faster than Caughey, Rob Coley just three tenths behind his compatriot. Despite needing to almost just circulate and record a time, Slade Stanley showed that the best part of two years out of the seat wasn’t really a setback stopping the clocks with a 51.695—the fourth fastest qualifier of the weekend.
Nick Berryman too was continuing his charge forward with long-time Australian rivals Mick Carroll and Daryl Hutton not far behind, Carroll’s team-mate and boat owner Tony Giustozzi too finally all smiles after perfecting the rotation, both idrivers making the cut.
Sadly at the close of the four qualifiers we lost a couple of big guns in Natwel Racing’s Jamie Welch, the West Australian team still battling technical issues with their stunning twin-turbo powerplant, he was joined by Glenn ‘Spider’ Roberts who had been so impressive at Cabarita during the penultimate round of the Penrite Australian championships, finishing mere tenths of a second behind Phonsy Mullan to take second for the round.
Joining them in retirement were Paul Burgess, New Zealander Scott Donald who suffered a litany of problems and started just one qualifier, Cheryl Welch and Simon Cain who suffered a big off in Q3 ending his weekend with plenty of work to do ahead of the second leg of the World Series at Cabarita.
Campaigning a variation on one of his past powerplants after a new engine and boat package failed to come together with the late delivery of parts, Mullan kicked off the finals with another top time to be classified P1 at the close of the Top 16, his 51.112 although slower than his qualifying best, was still two tenths faster than Rob Coley with Baden Gray making his intentions felt to be just four tenths slower than Mullan.
Peter Caughey was fourth, although it was clear he wasn’t pushing, his time making it four boats within just half a second, with Nick Berryman a further 1.4 seconds back in fifth.
Daryl Hutton was continuing to find pace in the American Automotive machine, the team admitting that the dramas of day one had hurt the engine, the expat New Zealander though pressing on. Mick Carroll was too starting to find form, the South Australian a ragged but fast seventh just clear of the impressive Michael Cunningham.
With a fresh lick of paint on the True Blue machine, Cunningham was quick, the Sprintcar driver just two tenths slower than Carroll and half a second up on reigning AUS No. 1 Scott Krause.
Rachael Swartz was tenth but lamenting a lack of power, the reason for which became obvious in the second final when the engine finally let go in a cloud of white smoke ending what had been an almost certain top ten points haul.
Tremayne Jukes was eleventh, the popular Victorian battling to get the former national championship winning hull and supercharged-Ford engine combination to work at its optimum, a bigger jet unit than they’d have preferred costing them valuable power, an overheating issue too requiring Jukes to drive within safety limits to avoid potential damage.
That left Kyle Patrick as the last driver though into the 12, but an incident in Scott Krause’s run had the UIM representatives deep in conversation. The three-time 2018 Penrite Australian series round winner had endured an eventful lap which saw him up the bank as he came out of the final corner to cross the line on the edge of the bank, collecting the timing line in the process.
Under national rules, the result would have been declared a non-finish, but with that rule omitted from the UIM rulebook, Krause’s time was allowed, Daniel de Voigt also benefitting having been initially declared as the 12th-place finisher.
By the Top 12 final, the big guns were starting to fire, Caughey P1 with a crowd-pleasing 49.653, something which prompted a standing ovation from his rivals as he came back to his trailer, Mullan carding a time 1.28 seconds slower for second with Baden Gray an impressive third, just two tenths slower.
Sadly for Rob Coley who had emerged as a serious contender in the first final, a navigational error saw him circulate until the fuel tank was all but dry—he just couldn’t get the difficult rotation right, something Caughey admitted later had nearly tripped him up, the former world champion though making the right choice on a fifty-fifty decision..
That allowed Nick Berryman to move into fourth from Hutton and Mick Carroll who would all form part of the third final.
Michael Cunningham continued to impress with seventh, just four tenths slower than Carroll, with Jukes just half a second behind and a full second clear of Scott Krause who was still battling the rotation. Kyle Patrick was down on his best of the day but was classified tenth ahead of Daniel de Voigt who continues to improve every time he hits the water.
With six left the big question was who could do anything about Caughey and Mullan, the two champions still clear of their rivals and consistently punching out laps in the 49s and 50s.
The answer came in Baden Gray, the former Group A front runner went out in the third final harder than before and was strong at the first split, sadly he was also a bit ragged, the crowd watching with baited breath as he attacked the final few corners. Sadly he clipped one of them, giving he and Darryn Todd a wild ride that ended on the bank, at the same time ending his charge up the leaderboard.
With Gray out it was down to the Australians, Mick Carroll and Daryl Hutton. Carroll was again on the knife edge, but he delivered his best time of the day—52.210, while Hutton dropped back to fifth. That allowed Nick Berryman to move into the final with a 51.792, four tenths quicker than Carroll with just two boats remaining, Caughey and Mullan.
Mullan continued his strong pace, but again he was unable to break into the 49s, Caughey though just as consistent, but for Mullan, that consistency saw the New Zealander still holding P1, this time by 72 one hundredths.
The final would be all about chance.. For Nick Berryman, it would be about finishing with a straight boat and putting valuable points in the bag for the title. He did just that, a quick 51.099 put the top two on notice and had him in a strong position if either one faltered.
Mullan was first, and you could see he was giving it everything he had. Coming to the line he was close, but a difficult approach to the final corner saw him lose time before the exit, the time 50.707, half a second shy of his qualifying best.
Caughey knew he’d have to turn in a flawless lap. At the first timing line he was down on Mullan’s time, but there was still half a lap remaining. The New Zealander charged around the final stanza of the lap and in true champions fashion crossed the line with his best run of the day—49.247, to claim maximum points and a one-point lead over his Australian rival heading into the second round at Cabarita.
International Group A—Qualifying
While the pace of the Unlimited field was electric, the immediate impression left upon the Group A field after practice and the opening qualifiers was that the New Zealanders were fast, some of them fast enough to make the top ten in the Unlimited field!
Pretty quickly the Australian teams knew they were in trouble—not the least from the circuit rotation, many of the top local teams seemingly suffering from stage fright as one after the other the favourites fell off the top of the leaderboard.
They had good reason to be surprised too, the pace of reigning New Zealand champion Ollie Silverton—who had never seen the venue prior to his first practice lap—was so quick that he would have qualified fourth for the Unlimited class, and he was also more than a second faster than the next best Group A boat, fellow Kiwi Sean Rice.
Queenslander Paul Kelly was waving the flag for the locals, just four one thousandths slower than Rice, although he made a mess of his navigation in the second session to close the day well behind the leaders.
By the end of day one, the three New Zealanders had a podium lockout in play, Silverton now almost two seconds clear of the field which was led by Rice, with Travers a close third. Next quickest was Australia’s Justin Roylance the Spitwater Team Outlaw’driver stunning everyone with an aggressive display of driving that saw him end the day just three tenths of a second off Ross Travers and admitting he had plenty in reserve.
Sadly, just like the Unlimited field there were casualties, the first of which was two-time 2018 race winner Jody Ely, the Victorian expected to be a big part of the Australian challenge, but his day ended with mechanical failure and a very real chance of retirement.
Ynot’s Mike Llewellyn too endured a tough day and failed to record a time, something which former US champion Ron Domoe also experienced, the tall American admitting that visibility was an issue in his new Jetspeed hull as a result of a roll cage built far too low for his and navigator Steve Church’s tall frames.
New Zealand champion Ollie Silverton was a force to contend with.
Come Sunday morning the teams were back in action for the final two qualifiers with not one but two New Zealanders setting a cracking pace, Sean Rice topping the final qualifier to record a best of 53.742 to qualify second behind Ollie Silverton’s mind-numbing 53.097 a time which made him the fifth fastest boat at the event (and there were 22 Unlimited boats in the field)!
Sadly though Silverton’s pace didn’t come without a tax, the man from Hamilton failing to finish the final qualifier after a warning light came on mid lap, Silverton immediately shutting the boat down to minimize any potential damage admitting later that there was a pending issue and that the team would ‘nurse’ the boat through the finals.
The third fastest driver through to the finals was none other than Justin Roylance, the man from Forbes showing that his Saturday pace had been no fluke the ‘Outlaw’ driver topping Ross Travers by a quarter of a second in the end, with 2018 Penrite Series rival Paul Kelly just two tenths further back.
Rampage fans too had reason to rejoice after Jody Ely made a return to form, a huge overnight drive from Mildura had delivered Rob Colman’s former front-running Group A engine from a few seasons back to the Victorian team in the wee small hours of Sunday morning, a big push from a number of teams who chipped in to help seeing the Jetspeed back on the water for Q3, but sadly with little luck and another DNF. A despondent Ely walked away from the boat speechless, but more help from his team and rivals saw him back up to speed for Q4, Ely ultimately qualifying inside the top 16 to make the first final.
Ben Hathaway’s tough buildup to the weekend which saw him at one stage stranded and without a boat had finally seen a turnaround too, the 2017 AUS No. 1 loaned a boat by Keith promoter Matt Malthouse, the Victorian putting it to good use to be sixth fastest into the finals and pushing to find more pace. He was followed by recently crowned AUS No. 1 Mark Garlick, the ‘Grumpy’ team well off the pace we’d come to expect during the Australian season, Mark seventh, son Jake lucky to make the cut after a torrid time perfecting his navigation, the younger of the Garlick’s just on the bubble for missing the second final.
Of the 18 boats that qualified, sadly Mike Llewellyn (Ynot) and Ron Domoe (Bad Influence) missed the cut to progress to the first final, the two American teams though gaining valuable miles, although Domoe was lamenting a tough driving position in his new hull, something he was looking to try to rectify ahead of Cabarita.
International Group A—Finals
The first casualty of the elimination finals was Cosa Nostra’s Sean Rice, the New Zealander making his only error of the weekend, getting so badly lost during his run that the second fastest qualifier finally completed his lap at more than double his previous best, a shattering 1:25.138.
That opened the door for Australia’s Justin Roylance to make a push for the second step of the podium, but he was pipped at the post by another Australian, ‘4Zero Racing’s’ Paul Kelly, the man who many expected to take the 2018 Australian title finding more than a second to cross the line with a 54.622 to be just a second slower than pace-setter Ollie Silverton and a full half second faster than Justin Roylance—the locals were finally starting to fire.
Ynot’s Tony Whalan turned in his best run of the weekend to card a 68.770, but like Peter Monger (Mongrel), Darrin Kesper (Let’s Boogie) and 2016 Australian champion Brett Thornton (2Obsessed) he missed the cut for the second final, Thornton by an agonising two tenths of a second as fellow former champion Daniel James finally uncovered some pace in the JRE machine.
The second final claimed another big scalp, this time reigning Australian champion, Mark Garlick who made a rare navigational error, the V8 Superboat veteran admitting he’d made very few over the years, but this one could prove to be the most costly in what has been a long and illustrious career.
Sadly 2017 “Rookie of the-Year” Mitch Roylance was the next victim, his failure to qualify no reflection on his impressive pace, the ‘Blackjack’ pilot sadly out with mechanical failure prompting questions about whether he would return for Cabarita.
In the end the top of the leaderboard once again reflected the pace of the Kiwis, Silverton showing no sign of the mechanical issues which had prompted concern on Saturday night as he punched out a second lap in the 53s, his time just six one hundredths slower than his time in the Top 16. Ross Travers was second, but mere hundredths behind were 2017 Australian champion Ben Hathaway, Paul Kelly, Justin Roylance and three-time national title holder Jake Garlick. Things were starting to get interesting.
Sadly the second final also saw the demise of Ynot’s Shane Brennan, the Queenslander doing a brilliant job to run with the established stars, a navigational error in the end qualifying him ninth. Jody Ely turned in his best run of the weekend to be eighth a solid recovery from an engine failure on Saturday afternoon, the Rampage pilot and his team losing valuable track time which ultimately kept him just outside the Top 6 with Daniel James—the recent Cabarita round winner in the Australian Series admitting the result had more to do with him than the boat, but you’d expect a full recovery come the round No. 2.
He didn’t need to, but Silverton stepped up the pace for the third final, the NZ No. 1 taking almost seven tenths off his Top 12 time to put any challenge out of question. The big mover though was Justin Roylance who recovered from dropping to fifth in the second final to stop the clock second, two tenths faster than Travers and half a second faster than his best.
With Travers third, that sealed the lineup for the all-important final with Ben Hathway, Jake Garlick and Paul Kelly all missing the cut, Hathaway by seven tenths of a second, Garlick just two tenths slower. Sadly for Paul Kelly, he was on song for another strong lap, but a navigational error sealed his fate leaving Roylance as the sole Australian boat still in contention.
Travers was first out the gate for the final, the New Zealander finding six tenths of a second to set a 54.147, some three tenths faster than Roylance’s best. The Australian went out next to the cheers of the fans and while his lap was impressive, he dropped slightly on his best to set a 54.982 with Silverton still to come.
Like multiple world-champion Peter Caughey, Silverton stepped it up another level in his final run, setting a blistering 52.212 to put any question of a challenge completely out of the equation to take maximum points heading into Cabarita.
For many of the Australian teams there is work to do ahead of the second round at Cabarita, an event where Peter Caughey feels the Australians—with their immense experience at the longest established circuit in the country—will carry a significant advantage.
That remains to be seen.
The second round of the 2018 Penrite UIM World Series is set for Nov. 3-4, in Cabarita Beach, New South Wales, Australia.
Jet Sprints World Championships On Tap Down Under This Weekend
Garlick Prevails In V8 Superboats Championship Round No. 4
Krause Three-Peats In Aussie V8 Superboats Championship Round No. 3
Krause And Kelly Prevail In Second Round Of V8 Superboat Championship
New Series Sponsor, Rough Weather Highlight Australian Jet Sprint Season Opener