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HomeRacingCocoa Beach Wrap Up: The Last Lap Is The One That Matters

Cocoa Beach Wrap Up: The Last Lap Is The One That Matters

In the highly anticipated, season-opening Class 1 World Championships Series competition at the Thunder On Cocoa Beach offshore powerboat race Sunday, owner/driver Darren Nicholson and throttleman Giovanni Carpitella looked to have everything in control in their 47-foot Victory catamaran, 222 Offshore Australia. They had qualified on the pole and took the lead as soon as the green flag waved, pulling ahead of throttleman Steve Curtis and driver Brit Lilly in their 47-foot Victory, Huski Ice Spritz.

Featuring new livery, the Huski Ice Spritz team of throttleman Steve Curtis and driver Brit Lilly only led for a handful of seconds on Sunday in Cocoa Beach, Fla., but they were the seconds that mattered. Photos by Pete Boden/Shoot 2 Thrill Pix

With the exception of conditions that were much calmer for the 2023 edition of the P1 Offshore-produced American Power Boat Association Offshore National Championship Series race in Cocoa Beach, Fla., there was a feeling of déjà vu as the team sponsored by the Australian Navy dominated 90 percent of the laps last year, but in the end, a mechanical issue cost them as Curtis and driver Brit Lilly took the lead late in the race and earned the victory in Huski Chocolate.

This year, 222 Offshore Australia was coming into the final turn on the last of nine laps on the 6.9-mile course in the Atlantic Ocean when Nicholson had to go wide to avoid the 46-foot Outerlimits, Team DeFalco, driven by Mike Falco and throttled by New Zealand’s Chris Hanley. Suddenly, as Nicholson made the move, the boat slowed.

This opened the door for Lilly, who dove inside Team DeFalco, shortening his line around the course. Huski Ice Spritz passed 222 Offshore Australia to claim the checkered flag. Nicholson and Carpitella held on for second followed by throttleman John Tomlinson and driver Carlos de Quesada in the 50-foot Victory, Pothole Heroes.

Those who have participated in and/or followed offshore racing have heard countless times, “Your first need to finish to finish first” or some version of the annoying motto. The 222 Offshore Australia team wasn’t the only one forced to swallow a bitter pill on the last lap. Tomlinson and driver Milton Calafell had the fleet covered in the Factory Stock 450R class in their 39-foot MTI, TS Motorsports, until the last turn of the last lap when a water hose blew off one of the outboards’ powerhead, filling the cowling with water and shutting down the engine.

After Saturday’s outstanding Super Stock race and Class 1 qualifying whetted the appetites of the fans lining the Cocoa Beach shoreline, Sunday’s four races involving 34 boats in seven classes delivered a satisfying main course. The weekend saw only one incident on a course that was, as livestream announcer Mike Yowaiski described, “historically calm for Cocoa Beach.”

The Mod V class helped put on a good show for the Thunder On Cocoa Beach spectators on Sunday.

Convincing Wins
In the first race of the day, the Bracket 200, 300 and 400 classes took to the water along with the eight boats in the Mod V fleet. Each bracket class had only two boats and in Class 200, the 41-foot Apache, Predator, with owner/driver Dean Stahlman and throttleman Nate Huntled flag to flag. The 40-foot Velocity, GNS Motorsports, had mechanical issues, but driver Grant Greytok and throttleman Bill Reeves logged enough laps to get credit for second place.

In Class 300, the weekend’s lone incident took place when the 38-foot Bad Boy, WeOnTop, rolled in a turn. Driver Reece Jones and throttleman Brian Cole emerged from the canopy unscathed. This left driver Billy Shipley and owner/throttleman Chad Woody in the 35-foot Fountain, Team Woody, to run unopposed to the checkers.

Class 400 featured two 34-foot Phantoms, with driver Mark Robbins and throttleman Damon Marotta in Control Freak getting the better of driver Jason Zolecki and owner/throttleman Jim Simmons in Simmons Marine.

For Lilly, who owns the Mod V-class 30-foot Extreme, LSB/Hurricane of Awesomeness, watching two other people run his boat might have been more nerve-wracking than driving it, which he usually does.

“It’s not even about watching them run my boat,” he said. “I just wanted them to do well.”

Turns out he had nothing to worry about. Throttleman Kevin Smith, with whom Lilly has partnered with for years, ran with substitute driver Kyle Miller and when the green flag flew, they charged to the front with a new Hering propeller and a Tyler Crockett engine that went into the boat last Wednesday. LSB maintained its lead over Steve Miklos and Steve Fehrmann in the 30-foot Extreme, Team Sunprint, until WeOnTop rolled after five laps.

The LSB team of Kevin Smith and Kyle Miller looked confident in the repowered 30-foot Phantom.

When the race resumed, it was a three-lap sprint and Smith and Miller moved to the front again with Team Sunprint in tow. The 30-foot Phantom, Fastboys, with owner/driver Ken Bolinger and throttleman Forrest Riddle ran third and Steve and Stephen Kildahl in the 30-foot Extreme, Boatfloater.com battled with Travis Petko and Rob Hartmann in the 30-foot Phantom, Laticrete, for third.

LSB stretched out its lead all the way to the checkers. An ignition issue took Sunprint out of action and Fastboys took second followed closely by a charging Laticrete.

“In the restart, I had to basically start from scratch and it took a minute to get the setup back,” Smith explained. “We practiced this setup at home after Marathon with a new Hering prop and the new Tyler Crocket engine.”

Regarding the step up in power from a Mercury Racing HP525EFI to the carbureted higher-output engine, Smith said, “There’s so much more torque and having more rpm in a place like Cocoa, having that little extra punch after coming out of the water makes such a difference.”

Bolinger also stepped up in power this year with an engine from Gellner Engineering in Ohio. He said that he and Riddle could make up time in the turns, but they are still searching for straightaway speed.

“The motor is good,” Bolinger said. “We just need to figure out this propeller.”

Hartmann stepped into Petko’s 30-foot Phantom that is powered by an engine built by Tony Silvera and Crockett. For the Laticrete team, the restart helped them make up ground because they had to work through an issue early in the race.

“We had an opportunity to rally at that point,” Hartmann said. “We started in lane seven and worked up to position three. Another hundred yards and we would have had second.”

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Check out the slideshow above for more images from Sunday’s action in Cocoa Beach.

Endurance Counts
In the second race of the day, the Class 1 boats took to the course and were the only category to run a parade lap. As mentioned earlier, 222 Offshore Australia, jumped out to an early lead over Huski Ice Spritz. Early on, owner/throttleman Rich Wyatt and driver Hugh Fuller held third in their 50-foot Mystic, df Young, but a loose hose soon cost them their day.

They had been battling Pothole Heroes so that team moved into third by itself. As 222 Offshore Australia continued to pull ahead, Lilly and Curtis settled into second.

“We were just trying to keep them honest,” Curtis said. “We found that we could catch them and as soon as we got close to them, they could get back ahead because they could drive the best line on the course.”

Making their first start in the new 43-foot Skater, Monster Energy/M CON, that is featured in a Speedonthewater.com-produced video that went live yesterday, owner/throttleman Tyler Miller and driver Myrick Coil started in the outside lane because they had hardly any time in the boat.

“We didn’t have a good start,” Miller said. “I didn’t have it up in the boost range and we’re coming into turn one and I said to Myrick, ‘What do you think?’ and he said, ‘We’re passing people is all I know.’”

They got in a couple laps until a hose ended their day as well.

With Nicholson and Carpitella looking to avenge last year’s disappointment, they entered the final turn leading at the south end of the course. But the boat suddenly slowed as its port engine lost power.

For most of Sunday’s competition, this was the view of 222 Offshore Australia for the Class 1 fleet.

Huski Ice Spritz passed 222 Offshore and took the checkered flag followed by the disappointed team from down under and Pothole Heroes. For the crew of the third-place boat, Tomlinson simply said, “That was all we had.”

One obstacle that all the crews had to contend with on Sunday was a giant blob of seagrass floating on the course.

“If I could, I would drive around it,” Lilly said. “I wasn’t going to run all over the course, but I avoided it when I could. One time we jumped over the whole pile.”

Maintaining Focus
Nine boats lined up next for the Super Cat race with the 38-foot Skater, Liquor Split, in lane one with owner/driver John Paul Emmons and throttleman Jimmy McIntyre. The new entry to the fleet, Dirty Money, with throttleman Bill Pyburn and driver Jason Ventura, was in lane two. Throttleman Casey Boaz and owner/driver Rob Unnerstall were in lane three in their 38-foot Skater, CR Racing. The 40-foot Skater, KLOVAR Motorsports, with throttleman Billy Allen and owner/driver Randy Keys held lane four.

The more experienced teams were in the outer lanes with throttleman Grant Bruggemann and owner/driver Wayne Valder in the 40-foot MTI, Pro Floors Racing/Valder Yachts, in lane five with Coil and Miller in their 38-foot Skater, Monster Energy/M CON, in lane six. Outside of them were Vinnie Diorio and Matt Jamniczky, in the 39-foot Outerlimits, SV Offshore. Owner/driver Chris Grant and throttleman Billy Moore were in lane eight in their 38-foot Skater, Graydel, and the 40-foot Skater, WHM Motorsports, with owner/driver Billy Mauff and throttleman Jay Muller rounded out the field.

At the start of the race, Ventura and Pyburn jumped ahead of an early battle at the front with Monster Energy/M CON. CR Racing and Pro Floors Racing/Valder Yachts rounded out the top four.

The Monster Energy/M CON team of Tyler Miller and Myrick Coil ran a solid race to take home the Super Cat-class checkered flag.

The 6.9-mile course had a dogleg on the backstretch where the teams have to turn left to set up for the righthand turn at the north end of the course. Ventura said that he couldn’t see out of a distorted windshield on his boat and missed the dogleg.

“I screwed the pooch on that one,” Ventura said. “I had bad windshields in the boat and it was like looking out a fun-house mirror. I drove the whole race with one eye. The windshield was distorted and the GPS kept going from panning to back to the boat.”

This left the door open for Monster Energy/M CON and Pro Floors Racing/Valder Yachts, both of whichwent into the north turn hot.

“We couldn’t locate the lefthand buoy,” Bruggemann said. “We were off course by 100 yards and we located it and all of a sudden Monster Energy/M CON was in our window.”

After that Coil and Miller took off and impressively extended their lead on every lap, taking the win in convincing fashion. With all the attention that the entire sport had been focusing on the team’s Class 1 effort, it would have been easy to assume that the Monster Energy/M CON Super Cat might not be at its peak. But anyone assuming that doesn’t know Miller.

“I kept telling everyone, ‘Don’t lose sight of the Super Cat,’” Miller said. “I spent probably three or four hours reading data on the Super Cat Saturday night.”

During Sunday’s race, as soon as he and Coil realized that Dirty Money had missed a buoy, Miller said it was game on. “Once we got around everybody and had that clean water, it’s game on at that point.”

Valder and Bruggeman held on for second and the latter tipped his cap to the M CON team.

“We didn’t have much for them,” Bruggemann said. “We just need to do a little more homework.”

Third went to CR Racing and Unnerstall was elated to be on the podium. Regarding the dogleg Dirty Money missed on the first lap, Unnerstall said Boaz was screaming, “Don’t follow him, don’t follow him.”

While he spent most of the afternoon beating himself up for the navigational snafu, Ventura also found a bright spot—his boat was freaking fast. “The whole world saw us keeping up with US1,” Ventura said.

The 450R Factory Stock race featured five boats in offshore racing’s newest class.

It Happens To The Best
The final race of the weekend featured the boats in the 450R Factory Stock class that consists of 38- and 39-foot catamarans powered by twin Mercury Racing 450R outboards.

Tomlinson and Calafell, who was filling in for driver Taylor Scism, charged out to the lead in their defending national and world championship MTI hull, TS Motorsports. Throttleman Nick Imprescia and driver Ian Morgan were in second in their 39-foot MTI, 151 Express, followed by owner/throttleman Michel Karsenti and driver Ervin Grant in the 38-foot Doug Wright, Gladiator Canados and newcomers to the class, driver Brian Guy and throttleman Julian Maldonado in the 38-foot Doug Wright, PLP Scapes. The duo won the Bracket 700 race on Saturday and Maldonado teamed up with owner Reese Langheim in the 32-foot Victory, Jackhammer, for the victory in Super Stock.

Within a lap or two of the seven circuits of the course for the 450R Factory Stock class, the Doug Wrights had gotten past 151 Express. Gary Ballough and driver Willy Cabeza brought up the rear in their 39-foot MTI, GC Racing.

The positions remained unchanged for the balance of the race until the final turn when Tomlinson and Calafell lost power in one of their engines. Gladiator Canados moved to the front followed by PLP Scapes.

Karsenti, who calls France home, has raced all over the world since he was 16 years old. When asked how many times he has been told about the importance of finishing the race, he said, “I heard it once from the late Fabio Buzzi,” Karsenti said. “He told me ‘Kid, you’re a great throttleman, but in order to win a championship, you have to finish the race.’”

Wiser words have never been spoken.

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