After almost 40 years of knowing each other through Union Internationale Motonautique Class One competition—once the pinnacle of offshore powerboat racing—and working together at Cougar Boats in England, Steve Curtis and Gary Stray found themselves on the same team in late 2017. Their reunion came out of the worst of circumstances—a horrific crash involving the Miss GEICO and Cat Can Do raceboats during the St. Clair River Classic in Michigan that claimed the life of throttleman Keith Holmes.
Miss GEICO team crew chief and throttleman Steve Curtis were delighted with yesterday’s test session. Photos by Cole McGowan courtesy Miss GEICO.
In a painful decision for everyone involved, the longtime Miss GEICO cockpit crew of throttleman Scott Begovich and driver Marc Grant opted out of the boat. After speaking with his Miss GEICO team partners, Stray, the outfit’s crew chief, reached out to Curtis, a multi-time world champion. With his Spirt Of Qatar gig long gone and time on his hands, Curtis agreed to take on throttling duties for the team.
“We tend to go about things the same way, Gary and I,” said Curtis, who like the Miss GEICO crew chief is a British citizen with a Green Card. “We also speak the same language.”
Still, their first full season on the team together—2018 was rough—thanks to endless mechanical woes. The Miss GEICO crew was still sorting out what had become a train-wreck of an engine program since the team won back-to-back Super Boat International Unlimited-class world championships in the 2013 and 2014. But by the end of the 2018 season, Stray and company felt they had worked out their engine woes, most of which had centered around excessive heat production, They began the 2019 season with high hopes.
A crash during the Sarasota Powerboat Grand, the third race of the inaugural American Power Boat Association Offshore Championships, derailed them. So significant was the damage to Miss GEICO team’s 47-foot Victory catamaran that the team had to lease a back-up boat to finish the season. They limped through the rest of the year.
The team entered the 2020 season with a completely rebuilt boat, a whole lot of confidence and a new pair of drivers, veteran offshore racer Brit Lilly and ground-breaking extreme motorsports star Travis Pastrana, to alternate in the cockpit with Curtis. They were ready to compete against 222 Offshore, Victory and whatever other Class ONE teams showed up for the second-year season.
Instead, COVID-19 showed up and decimated the entire APBA series.
But aggravating as that’s been for every team in the sport, it’s given the Miss GEICO crew the gift of unexpected time to fine-tune their twin Mercury Racing 1100 Comp engine-powered raceboat. And they’ve been making the most of it.
A month ago, Curtis and Lilly ran the Miss GEICO cat in the Offshore Powerboat Boat Association Crystal Coast Grand Prix in Morehead City, N.C., with no issues. Yesterday, Curtis, Stay and members of the crew headed tested team’s 47-footer near the headquarters in Riviera Beach, Fla., in advance of next weekend’s Offshore At the Ozarks-Cat Edition at the Lake of the Ozarks In Central Missouri.
Said Curtis (right with Stray), “We tend to go about things the same way, Gary and I.”
It was a full and productive day.
“We tried different combinations of propeller pitch and diameter with different gear ratios,” said Stray. “We learned quite a lot about the performance of the boat with its new deck and the changes that brought to the boat’s character in comparison to how it ran before we replaced the deck using the same propellers and equipment.
“We managed to get seven or eight different combinations of propellers and gear ratio on the boat,” he continued. “Once we fully review the data, we’ll have an even clearer picture of what we accomplished.”
Added Curtis, who will share the cockpit with Lilly at the Ozarks event and with Pastrana during the OPA World Championships in Morehead City three weeks later, “We gained a lot of knowledge from the runs we did—some focusing on acceleration, some optimized for top speed, and handling. We learned a lot about the power curve of the Mercury Racing 1100 engines, and how those worked with the propellers. It was a good day of testing.”
Yesterday’s test session was the team’s last in advance of the Central Missouri race. On Tuesday, the Miss GEICO team will head west. Practice is over.
“We’re looking forward to trying our new set up and boat on the race course, for sure,” said Stray.
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