Billed as one of the strongest fields outside of a World Championship, the second and thirds event on the 2015 Australian V8 Superboats jetsprint racing calendar more than delivered across the two days of competition last weekend in Cabarita Beach, New South Wales, with a mix of impressive speed and dramatic off-course excursions keeping the strong local crowd entertained. The unofficial “Australia versus New Zealand” event was settled strongly in favor of the Aussie home’ team, though not without some stunning performances by Kiwis Rob Coley and dual-Australian Unlimited Superboat champion Daryl Hutton.
Two days of jetsprint powerboat racing at Cabarita Beach yielded some wild action. All photos courtesy/copyrigth Russell Puckeridge/Pureart Creative Images
In the end though, despite recovering from injury, no one could stop reigning Australian champion Phonsy Mullan, the two-time Unlimited Superboat champion delivering two flawless performances in his twin-turbo 445ci powered Ramjet to continue his 2015 season undefeated.
While the Unlimited Superboat field delivered one of the strongest collections of drivers in recent history, the 400-Class too was no less impressive with hundreds of a second separating the leading boats. Ultimately old foes Mark Garlick and Brooke Lucas took a win apiece, although on both occasions they were kept honest by Adelaide’s Damian O’Leary whose consistency has given him the series points lead, keeping the title fight truly alive and well.
For Saturday’s opening round, the big talking point in the pits was the circuit rotation, with multiple boats out of the water, and less than half the field recording a time two qualifying heats in, after failing to perfect their navigation. Some called for a change of course, however Australian Formula Jet Spring Associaton president Ted Sygidus—himself struggling to come to grips with the tricky course direction—reminded everyone that they were all literally in the same boat.
“The problem is we’ve come to Cabarita for so many years, that we assume the direction will be similar, but it’s not, so you come to a tricky part of the course and muscle memory takes you in the direction you’re used to,” said Greg “Crusty” Mercer, ranked second in the world by ACOL Racing. “We have a new jet unit for this weekend, something we’re developing, and whilst it was incredible on open water, the only way to test a superboat jet—or for that matter anything to do with a Superboat—is on a superboat course, so we’re learning on the fly at present, because the boat is handling a lot differently to the way we had it performing in the past. It’s no bad thing, we just need to tune quickly because the qualifiers and the finals come at you pretty quickly.”
For more action from last weekend’s jetsprint event, check out the slideshow above.
Early in qualifying on day one, the unofficial Australia versus New Zealand battle looked very much like it would go to the Kiwis, with race-winning New Zealander Rob Coley topping the timesheets ahead of former Australian champion Daryl Hutton.
By finals time though they were joined by Australia’s best led by Mullan, Brooke Avenell, Ted Sygidus and Tremayne Jukes, the former 400-Class front-runner campaigning a 410-cubic-inch Sprintcar powerplant similar to Avenell.
With his rivals watching Coley was first to venture out, although the New Zealander didn’t even make half a lap, beaching his 705-cubic-inch big-block powered Poison Ivy after losing visibility driving into the sun. “I couldn’t see a thing,” he admitted afterward having first confirmed the boat was undamaged.
Sadly former 400-Class champion Brooke Avenell was next to retire, the team unable to make the ramp after discovering a mechanical issue. That forced some rapid repairs overnight with parts flown in from Melbourne to ensure she’d make the field for round three.
Sygidus put in one of his biggest efforts of the weekend in the Top 6 to set up a run for the podium, before first Jukes, then Hutton and ultimately Mullan dropped him off the podium.
In the 400-Class long-time rivals Mark Garlick and Brooke Lucas battled Damian O’Leary through the qualifiers and into the finals, before Garlick suffered a rare off and rollover in the Top 6, eliminating the opening round winner from contention.
“That run just wasn’t comfortable, I was unsettled and the boat was unsettled, and as a result, it all came unstuck, fortunately with nothing worse than a couple of scratches,” Garlick explained.
That elevated the impressive Paul Kelly to the podium, with Lucas pulling out all stops to take his maiden victory at Cabarita after 16 years trying.
“I’ve won everywhere else, but never cracked it here,” he admitted with a broad smile. “Today everything just worked out, but I didn’t get ahead of myself, I just focused on every round as it came, but I knew where I could find time if I needed to, and put it all together for the final. I’m rapt.”
Despite a record field of 16 Unlimited Superboat entries, and a typically strong field of 400 Class boats, only two 350-Class boats entered for Cabarita, led by former champion Jake Garlick in Col Bellert’s Evil As, while Ben Hathaway joined the field in Weapon, the Victorian taking first blood in round one after Garlick made a navigational error in the final of round two. He made amends in round two with a comfortable victory after Hathaway was forced to borrow a spare boat after suffering a mechanical issue at the end of day one.
Of the recoveries, the best was West Australian Jamie Welch who immediately jumped to the top of the Unlimited timesheets in Q1, the Natwel Racing driver keeping the form going through to the finals.
“We’ve had the speed all year, but we just haven’t put it all together, so it’s nice to be at the top, we just need to keep it there,” he admitted ahead of the finals.
Despite the early pace of Welch and Hutton, it was Mullan and Avenell who went into the finals trading places at the top of the timesheets, whilst for Rob Coley, a promising start to the weekend was amounting to little more than frustration on day two.
“I don’t know what it is, I just can’t get the rotation right in my head,” he explained. “I know we have the pace to run at the top, but until you get the rotation right, there’s little point in pushing it. I honestly can’t put a finger on it—it’s not a difficult course, but I just can’t put a complete lap together.”
Sadly for the popular Kiwi, his problems continued through until the finals where he was eliminated in the top 12.
He wasn’t the only one, Greg Mercier was back up to speed for the finals, making the top six only narrowly over Coley, but a steering issue as a result of his new jet unit was making life difficult. Sadly for the two Sygidus brothers, they were both eliminated during the Top 12 final, Ted missing out by the narrowest of margins despite one of his best runs of the weekend.
The round-three final saw Mullan comfortably through with an impressive 36.466, with Avenell too bringing her ‘A-game’ to a 37.27 laying the foundations for a great final, whilst arguably the drive of the weekend came from Tremayne Jukes who incredibly found two seconds to eliminate Hutton for a place in the final three.
In the end though, despite backing up his Top 6 time, Jukes could do nothing to stop Mullan, the ‘Ramjet pilot powering through with a 36.450 to take the win, whilst Avenell was forced to concede after failing to make a start with further mechanical issues, her efforts though rewarded with third for the day and an extension in points, although with three wins from as many starts, Mullan sits alone at the top of the championship points table.
“Very happy with that, that’s three from three, and six in a row. Brooke [Avenell] was keeping me pretty honest, she was pushing me harder than I wanted to go,” he said.
As for Avenell, the disappointment of not being able to take the fight to Mullan in the final was evident. Whether she would have taken the top step of the podium is a topic of speculation, but there was no doubt in her mind she could have pushed it. “There wasn’t much in it, and we were almost there in the Top 6. As for what would have happened in the final, I would have given it a red-hot go, but sadly we suffered another mechanical issue on the ramp and couldn’t make the start. Disappointed, but happy to have taken the fight to Phonsy all weekend, am looking forward to going one better here in August.”
In 400-Class Mark Garlick’s victory in round three keeps the championship battle well and truly alive, but his error in round two which saw ‘Grumpy’ inverted in the Top 6 has allowed the ever-consistent Damian O’Leary to take the points lead.
“It’s close this year, I think at one stage there was eight one hundredths of a second between the top three boats which is crazy,” Garlick admitted. “I’m just going to press on though and keep fighting because my main aim is for Jake [Garlick] to hand me the champions trophy at the end of the year. If I can do that, I’ll be one happy old man.”
Editor’s Note: For complete results from Cabarita Beach, visit the Australian V8 Superboats website and Facebook page. The next event 2015 Australian V8 Superboats Championships is August 8-9, Tweed Coast, New South Wales.
2015 Australian Superboat Championships Schedule
Round 1—March 7, Temora (NSW)
Round 2/3—May 23-24, Tweed Coast (NSW)
Round 4—August 8-9, Tweed Coast (NSW)
Round 5—September 26, (venue TBC)
Round 6—October 24, Temora (NSW)
Round 7—November 21-22, Tweed Coast (NSW)