The opening round of the 2019 Penrite Australian V-8 Superboats Championship last weekend began in style at a venue widely regarded as the best in the world—Spitwater Arena at Keith in South Australia—where a dramatic final saw the popular new look Excalibur team claim its maiden win at “home, while in the 400-Class another epic battle for the top spot delivered Queensland’s Paul Kelly back-to-back Keith victories.
Excalibur took top honors at the Australian V-8 Superboats Championship season-opener last weekend (click image to enlarge). Photos courtesy/copyright Russell Puckeridge/Pureart Creative Images.
The pre-season blues claimed a number of teams before the action even got underway, the LS-Class suffering the most casualties with a number of teams attending without their boats, while in the Unlimited class, setbacks on the delivery of bespoke parts from across the globe saw some teams forced to start their weekend with backup equipment, one of those, reigning World Champion Phonsy Mullan. Fortunately though, their backup was the most successful Superboat in the modern history of the sport, the twin-turbo package that delivered Mullan multiple Australian titles and the world championship crown.
Others weren’t quite so lucky, one of them being Mullan’s 2018 title rival and the man with whom he was forced to share the coveted AUS No. 1 plate last year, Temora’s Scott Krause.
Sadly for Krause despite his best efforts and the arrival of the new look KAOS team for the opening round, they were unable to get everything they needed in place to put their potent twin-turbo machine to work, forcing Krause to take up a magnanimous offer from rival Michael Cunningham to share the driving duties of True Blue, an offer which handed Krause a podium finish to keep his title defense well and truly alive.
Two-time Australian champion Daryl Hutton too was in a similar position, the expat New Zealander unable to update his twin-turbo powerplant before Keith, forcing him back to his mighty supercharged-468-cubic-inch unit, an engine “Nutsy” admitted spent most of its time trying to kill him.
The Unlimited teams weren’t the only ones forced onto the back foot, former Keith podium finisher Justin Roylance suffering a delay in the arrival of his new hull for 2019, the Outlaw67 pilot fortunate though to take over the reins of the World No. 3 JRE Engines hull of Daniel James, although he was able to use the engine that took him to the podium in the opening round of the 2018 Worlds at Keith five months prior.
Typically scalps were claimed during practice, and there were a couple including New Zealand star Rob Coley who is back to take the fight to Australia’s best during the NZ off-season, ‘Poison Ivy’ sidelined with an electrical issue with the mighty twin-turbo Nissan V8. That forced Coley to jump into Excalibur alongside new boat owner Mick Carroll for the early qualifiers.
Michael Cunningham’s offer to Scott Krause kept the [co] reigning No. 1 in the program, while for Glenn Roberts the mighty big-block powered Blown Budget was struggling to get around the opening lap forcing some worried looks from the team, although they were able to resolve the issue and have Spider back firing on all eight cylinders for Q2.
Not surprisingly Phony Mullan topped the opening session in the Unlimited class, but the pace was no real indication of what was to come as driver’s and teams blew out the off-season cobwebs and dialled themselves into the track direction.
Queensland’s Paul Kelly back-to-back Keith victories in the 400 Class.
Q2 saw a stronger sign of what was ahead with Mullan and old-sparring partner Slade Stanley locked in battle for the top of the timesheets, the two world champions (Stanley claiming the 2005 and 2009 Group A world titles) separated by just a quarter of a second and almost two seconds clear of Scott Krause.
Both went almost a second quicker in Q3, Mullan extending his advantage to almost half a second as Mick Carroll had the big South Australian crowd on their feet after closing in to be within a second of Stanley. Michael Cunningham too had come alive to be fourth fastest just hundredths slower than Carroll and marginally clear of Daniel de Voigt. Sadly the qualifiers were taking casualties, Krause, Daryl Hutton, Glenn Roberts and Rob Coley all failing to record a time.
By the final qualifier the pace had stepped up again, Slade Stanley finally breaking through to set the fastest time of the day, his 46.971 seemingly untouchable for Mullan who was unable to improve on his 47.497 Q3 best. It was game on.
Mick Carroll improved again to be third fastest with Cunningham again shadowing the South Australian, while Daryl Hutton was finally able to find some pace in the Phoenix Lubricants machine albeit while continuing to battle with a fuel pressure issue to be fifth ahead of Glenn Roberts and Rob Coley.
In the 400-Class the fight for the pointy end of the field was just as intense.
Former champion Ben Hathaway took the early advantage in the new look ‘Warren & Brown Tools Racing’ machine, topping Q1 ahead of 2018 rivals Jody Ely, Justin Roylance and Paul Kelly.
2018 Keith winner Paul Kelly was quickly up to speed though, the Queenslander admitting that he loves the Keith layout and always seems to find something a little extra, his Q2 best of 52.384 though just two one hundredths faster than Hathaway, with Roylance just three tenths shy. Jody Ely was chasing pace and back half a second, but under fire from reigning 400-Class champion Mark Garlick in his new ‘Grumpy on Edge’ Stingray, the pair though keeping a close eye on WA No. 2 Daniel Salter who was having his maiden run at Keith and looking sharp.
Former champion Brett Thornton made his presence felt in Q3 to top the third session after the Kelly team went looking for extra time and went backwards, Thornton battling old foe Mark Garlick for the top spot, the pair separated by just a quarter of a second in the end, with Ely holding out Salter, Kelly and Roylance, the top six separated by just over a second.
By the final qualifier everyone was dialed in and the pace intensified, two-time 2018 winner Jody Ely claiming the top spot with an impressive 51.494, although he was just nine one hundredths faster than Roylance in the ‘JRE Engines’ machine with Paul Kelly third ahead of Daniel Salter, Brett Thornton and Hugh Gilchrist in the Pink Boots Racing Mackraft.
After a tough run across to Keith which saw Sydney’s Kyle Elphinstone at one stage stranded near Temora with a broken boat trailer axle, the LS-Class driver was present and accounted for and turning some impressive laps of Keith in just his second season in the sport, his Q4 58.584 good enough to put him just off the tail of the top ten 400-Class machines.
The opening final again saw Slade Stanley on top of the timesheets, his 47.056 although slower than his Q4 time, was comfortably clear of the next best time of Scott Krause, the reigning champion doing an outstanding job in his first ever drive of Michael Cunningham’s True Blue.
Phonsy Mullan was third, 1.4-seconds behind Stanley and just marginally clear of Mick Carroll and Rob Coley who thanks to the grace of the competitors, was back behind the wheel of ‘Poison Ivy’ and menacing the leaders.
Daniel de Voigt turned in the sixth fastest time to make the cut for the second final, although the engine gave a terminal pop at the end of the run, effectively ending his weekend.
Glenn Roberts failed to make the cut after more dramas, a pre-event setback with replacing a camshaft, and then subsequently the bearings had the team well behind the eight-ball, and a fuel pump issue set them back forcing the team to miss a round of qualifying. Daryl Hutton meanwhile seemed to have gotten on top of his fuel pressure issues to set a blistering opening split, but drama on the run to home saw him make a wrong choice on navigation as he was distracted by an issue inside the boat. He wasn’t alone, Michael Cunningham—motivated by the addition of Scott Krause to the True Blue team—was also looking to make his presence felt and his first split was also impressive, but during the run home he clipped the bank and was forced out of the water, ending what had been an otherwise sensational start to the season.
With Daniel de Voigt out of the Top 6, there were only five vying for a position in the final, a number which quickly became four as the pace-setting Hazardous entry of Slade Stanley had a troubled first split, but he seemed to recover and find his pace again across the conclusion of the lap—his time 48.679, would be good enough for just fifth, but not an entry into the final.
Post run Stanley explained that the accelerator pedal had become jammed and that he spent half a lap trying to get it back in action, but by the time he was focused eyes forward again, it was all over, the former 400-Class champion falling just a second shy of a berth in the all-important final three.
A jammed accelerator pedal kept Stanley out of the final three by one second.
That left Phonsy Mullan alone out front, but he too was unable to affect the perfect lap, his 47.452 impressive and mere hundredths slower than his best of the day, but it was just six one hundredths faster than Scott Krause and only a tenth faster than Mick Carroll, setting up an epic final, Rob Coley only managing fourth fastest just a quarter of a second shy of Carroll—the top four covered by 0.369 seconds.
Mick Carroll was first out in the final three, the South Australian setting a 48.707 after a cautious start, a time more than a second down on his Top 6 best. He held his breath as Scott Krause went out to deliver his final run, a lap which also wasn’t perfect, and despite a strong close he could not improve on Carroll’s time, his 49.671 well down on his personal best of the day leaving Phonsy Mullan a clear run to open his season account with a win.
In typical RAMJET style, Mullan left the gate like a bullet and completed one of the fastest first sectors of the day, but part way around the closing loop the big yellow No. 1 looked to be struggling and just a few corners later it was power out for the six-time Unlimited champion and a rare retirement handing Carroll his first win in more than a year, and his first win as the new boat owner of the Excalibur machine.
To say the victory was well received by the local fans, would be an understatement, they, and Carroll’s rivals all on their feet applauding the welcome result.
In 400-Class Paul Kelly made his intentions clear in the opening final to set the fastest time, his 50.905 more than four tenths faster than Justin Roylance, while Daniel Salter grabbed third, just 13 thousandths faster than Hathaway with Ely and Thornton completing the top six.
Greg Harriman was lamenting one of his best runs of the day to fall an agonizing eight one hundredths shy of a berth in the Top 6, he, team-mate Hugh Gilchrist, rookie Brendan Doyle and Ron O’Day also missing the cut, but the biggest scalp was that of reigning 400-Class champion Mark Garlick who beached himself on the run home to be another early retirement.
He wasn’t the only former champion to miss the final. Ben Hathaway suffered a similar fate in the Top 6 to miss his chance despite being well within reach, while Justin Roylance made a rare navigational error just two corners from home to also be classified a DNF. Sadly Brett Thornton had a less than perfect lap to be classified fourth and back onto the trailer for the final.
Ultimately Paul Kelly set the pace in the second final, albeit mere hundredths slower than his Top 12 best, although he was kept honest by Jody Ely and Daniel Salter ahead of the final run where Kelly let loose with the fastest lap of the day—50.664—to take the final over Ely by seven tenths of a second, with Daniel Salter a similar distance further back in third on his Penrite Australian V8 Superboats Championship debut.
The Penrite Australian V8 Superboats Championships now moves to Temora in regional New South Wales for the second round of the season and the running of the 2019 Colin Parish Memorial with a day-nighter on May 4, ahead of a return to the popular Tweed Coast facility in mid-June.