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HomeRacingKey West Worlds Day No. 2—Setting The Stage For The Finale

Key West Worlds Day No. 2—Setting The Stage For The Finale

Let’s get the obvious out of the way. After dominating again in Friday’s races at the 42nd annual Race World Offshore Key West World Championship presented by Performance Boat Center, the Class 1 222 Offshore Australia Navy, Super Cat M CON/Monster Energy and Super Stock Jackhammer teams looked to be the clear favorites in their respective categories.

But with double points being awarded on Sunday’s final competition, everything else is up for grabs. And that is the beauty of the three-day race format for the annual three-event grind to crown a world champion in the southernmost city of the United States.

M CON/Monster Energy is on the cusp of taking its second consecutive world championship in the Super Cat class. Photos by Jeff Helmkamp copyright Helmkamp Photos

There’s an almost inexplicable allure about Key West. Sure, former TV announcer and pro wrestler Stan Lane coined the phrase, “To be the best, you must win Key West,” but the racers take this motto to heart. The combination of the possibility of myriad conditions on the same course and the tightest corner in the famous harbor make the Key West championship arguably the most sought-after trophy in the sport.

After Wednesday showed that the teams that dominated the 2023 season leading into the world championships were still on top, Friday began with the potential for rougher conditions that could level the playing field.

With the exception of the bracket classes that started the day, Race World Offshore changed the number of races so that the professional classes would have the course to themselves.

That was a relief to the teams in Class 1, who took to the 4.5-mile course in the last action of the day alongside the boats in Extreme and in VX.

Welcome to Key West
After dominating the first day of action on Wednesday, driver Darren Nicholson and throttleman Giovanni Carpitella in the 47-foot Victory, 222 Offshore Australia Navy, pulled away from the five-boat fleet in Class 1 from their position in lane one. The team dominated the national series in 2023, but many in the sport feel that arriving in Key West levels the playing field. Apparently no one sent that memo to Nicholson and Carpitella, who averaged 106 mph over the 10 laps.

In the Class 1 contest, 222 Offshore Australia Navy appeared once again to have everyone’s number.

“Sometimes you just need to be cautious of the waves,” said Nicholson, who competed in Key West for the first time in Wednesday’s race and added that while competitors seem intent on hugging the buoys, he and Carpitella take a different approach. “The line could be good, but the turn buoy is only a guide. You need to drive the waves.”

Far be it from us to suggest a change.

Second on Friday went to Rich Wyatt and driver Hugh Fuller in the 50-foot Mystic Powerboats catamaran, df Young Logistics. Earlier in the day, the conditions looked like they were going to get rougher, but by the time the Class 1 fleet hit the emerald waters off Key West at about 3:45 p.m., the winds laid down and many competitors in the class hit the course wishing they had different gear combinations for their drives.

Wyatt and Fuller in df Young Logistics have been battling mechanical gremlins since the season began, yet they have remained competitive.

“We had some guardian issues, turbo temperatures we are still starting to sort out,” said Wyatt, who owns and throttles the 50-footer. “When we ran the big blower motors, you just kind of mashed it. This class, every tenth and every turn counts. You need to be perfect.

“There are a lot of man-hours that go into it,” he continued. “There’s a lot of maintenance that goes into the gearbox and driveline that I wasn’t expecting.”

Third in Class 1 went to owner/drive Mike Falco and throttleman Billy Moore in the 48-foot Outerlimits Offshore Powerboats cat, DeFalco.

Moore said he knew he was off on his choice of gears in the BPM surfacing drives, but added, “If you’re off a little, you can’t give up. You still go out and race.”In the overall standings, df Young sat in second after Friday’s race while DeFalco was third.

In the overall standings, 222 Offshore Australia had a commanding lead followed by df Young in second and DeFalco in third.

A Rough Start
In the first two races of the day before lunch, the leg from turn one to turn two was big water with 3- to 5-footers, but the winds backed down to less than 10 mph and there was a slack tide in the afternoon. Going against the typical Key West weather, the winds died down in the afternoon when the larger classes ran.

In the first race on Friday, the popular MTI cat, Batman Racing, with owner/driver Eliot Toth and throttleman Jax Muller, jumped to an early lead over the Stahlman family’s 41-foot Apache, Predator, with owner/driver Dean Stahlman, throttleman Nate Hunt and navigator Connor Stahlman. They were chased by Keith and Cade Herbott in their 38-foot Fountain Powerboats V-bottom, Herbott Racing, which had its best showing of the season, and finished on the podium for the Southernmost Continental Championship. But when the RWO results were posted, Predator took the top slot followed by Herbott Racing and Batman Racing.

Yesterday’s first-place finish was much neeede positive moment for the Predator team family.

In the Bracket 500-class race, throttleman Michael Stancombe and owner/driver J.J. Turk rebounded from a difficult day on Wednesday in their 30-foot Phantom, XINSURANCE/Golf-N-Gator to take first place. They were followed by driver Vincent Winoski and throttleman Rob Winoski in their 30-foot Phantom, Bronx Phantom/Marker 1 Marine, and the 28-foot DCB Racing, Mean Streak, with throttleman Vance Hagen and driver Vance Hellems. These results are unofficial until RWO officials say otherwise.

Turk and Stancombe were involved in an incident on Wednesday that left throttleman Ryan Stahlman and driver Reef Delanos injured but recovering. They said they would only return to the course on Friday with the blessing of Stahlman’s dad, Dean Stahlman, who drives Predator in Bracket 200 class. With his OK, they returned to the cockpit of their 30-foot Phantom.

“Every lap, every turn, it’s in the back your mind,” Stancombe said. “You just can’t let it get to the front.”

Elijah Kingery and driver Eric Ullom in the 29-foot Warlock, Bulletproof, have a slim lead over XINSURANCE/Golf-N-Gator heading into Sunday’s finale. Mean Streak is in third with Sweat Equity in fourth.

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Check out more action from Friday’s Bracket class contests.

In Bracket 700, 14-year-old Cameron Turk and throttleman Robert Bryant picked up the win in their 22-foot Nitra, XINSURANCE/Golf-N-Gator. Their boat is the narrowest in the class, which Bryant said helped them improve their advantage, but because the boat doesn’t have trim tabs, there was a learning curve.

“Because it’s narrower, it doesn’t launch the boat as much,” Bryant said. “But the way the boat turns and not having tabs, we had to learn it.”

Statement Marine Fast Cash finished second and that was enough to put the team in first overall heading into Sunday’s race. Bryant and Turk sat in second followed by Jackhammer.

In Bracket 400, the 34-foot Phantom, Team Simmons, with owner/driver Jim Simmons and throttleman Jason Zolecki, continued its winning ways. Attrition played a role in this race, however, with Team Woody Racing and Allied Offshore Racing moving up to contend with Sunday’s double-points race looming.

Leveling the Field
For every professional class, RWO officials did the best by keep the course clear by putting individual classes on the waters off Key West.

After the bracket-class teams ran, the eight boats in Mod-V class took to the 4.5 -ile course and as soon as the green flag flew, owner/driver Brit Lilly and throttleman Jay Wholtman took the lead in the 29-foot Extreme, LSB/RevX Oil/Speed Marine. They were followed by driver Steven Fehrman and owner/throttleman Steve Miklos in the 29-foot Extreme, El Bandito/Sunprint and Steven and Steve Kildahl in their 29-foot Extreme, Boatfloater.com.

LSB/RevX Oil delivered a dominating performance in the Mod-V class.

The top three boats in Mod-V held their positions while Kirk Hanna and Mark Rinda finished fourth in their 30-foot Phantom, NMB RV.

“That’s part of the deal,” Lilly said of preparing for the first launch after taking turn one. “It was rougher than we thought it would have been.” Added Wohltman, “It got rough down there quickly.”

Always the veteran, 66-year-old Steve Kildahl said he and his sone set up for the first flyer on lap one. Sunday will be a winner-take-all shootout with El Bandito/Sunprint sitting in first with 203 points, Boatfloater.com with 182 in second and LSB/Speed Marine in third with 160.

Down to the Wire
After the U.S. Coast Guard closed Key West Harbor for commercial traffic, the course opened at 12:30 with the boats in the 450R Factory Stock class taking to the waters off Key West.

At the start, the 39-foot MTI, GC Racing, with owner/driver Willie Cabesa and throttleman Shaun Torrente, took the lead, chased by owner/throttleman Michel Karsenti and driver Ervin Grant in the 38-foot Doug Wright, Gladiator Canados, and the 39-foot MTI, TS Motorsports, with driver Taylor Scism and throttleman John Tomlinson. TS Motorsports drew the outermost lane again, so it was paramount that they worked their up through the fleet faster than they had on Wednesday.

For 450R Factory Stock racers Taylor Scism and John Tomlinson, patience proved to be everything.

Which is exactly what they did, moving into second by the fifth of seven laps. As the race wore on, Scism admitted she didn’t think they could catch GC Racing. Then on the last lap, they made up ground coming out of the harbor and reeled in their competition in the bumps from turn one to turn two.

“When we thought it might actually happen, we said, ‘Let’s go,’” said Scism. They passed GC Racing at turn two and took the win on the last leg of the last lap. Gladiator Canados held on for third with Nick Imprescia and Ian Morgan holding on for fourth in the 39-foot MTI, 151 Express.

Karsenti said his boat’s Mercury Racing 450R outboards went into guardian mode, which limits the rpm. “We went into guardian about 40 or 50 times,” he said. “It’s been like that all season.”

The photo finish set up a scenario in which virtually any of the six boats in 450R Factory Stock could capture the championship a win because 48 points separated the top five boats in the class.

Opportunity Knocks
Next up, the 11 boats in Super Cat put on an impressive show. The Skater 388, Graydel, with owner/driver Chris Grant and throttleman Billy Moore moved to an early lead, taking advantage of the rougher conditions from turn one to turn two. They were chased by Coil and Miller in their 388 Skater, M CON/Monster Energy, the 40-foot MTI, Valder Yachts, with owner/driver Wayne Valder and throttleman Grant Bruggemann, and the 38-foot Skater, Dirty Money Racing, with throttleman Bill Pyburn and driver Brit Lilly, who continued to impress as they mesh as an in-cockpit duo.

After a withdrawing with a mechanical in Wednesday’s contest, Valder Yachts/Pro Floors Racing finished a strong second yesterday.

“The boat accelerated well out of the harbor, so our plan was to be patient and make our move where we ran the strongest,” said Miller. “When you have multiple options to pick up ground, you pick your spots.

Fortunately for them, the M CON team didn’t have to choose. Graydel lost electric power on the third lap, handing over the lead to their rivals. Giving chase were New Zealand’s Wayne Valder and throttleman Grant Bruggemann in the 40-foot MTI, Valder Yachts/Pro Floors.

“The conditions were exactly what we expected,” said Valder, who is still looking for his first world championship in Key West. After pulling out with a mechanical issue in the Wednesday race, he and Bruggemann moved up to fifth in the overall Super Cat standings, so they have their work cut out for them on Sunday.

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Check out more action from Friday’s Spec class contests.

Continuing to show improvement in their 388 Skater were the new pairing of driver Brit Lilly and throttleman Bill Pyburn in Beau Renfroe’s Dirty Money Racing. After thrashing to swap motors just to make Wednesday’s race, they finished third on Friday and sat second in the overall standings.

“The boat before it got here, we had 15 minutes running it,” said Pyburn. Describing Lilly, he said, “He has a calming factor and is a straight-up wheelman.”

Miller and Coil will still have to work to repeat as world champions with Dirty Money sitting second in the standings after Friday, followed by owner/driver Billy Mauff and throttleman Jay Muller in WHM Motorsports and Graydel in fourth.

Don’t Fall Sleep on Anyone

With two races left to go on Friday, the 11 boats in Super Stock took to the course. Initially, throttleman Gary Ballough and owner/driver Cole Leibel charged to the lead in their 32-foot Victory, Big East Construction. They were stalked by throttleman Julian Maldonado and owner/driver Reese Langheim in their 32-foot Victory, Jackhammer, that had won in dominating fashion on Wednesday.

By lap two, Jackhammer had moved into the lead, with the boat reaching average speeds in the mid-80 mph range for the 7 lap race on the 4.5-mile course. After the race, Langheim said a pre-race nap helped keep him and Maldonado sharp in the hot, humid conditions.

Big East held onto second followed by owner/driver Darren Kittredge and throttleman Casey Boaz in the 32-foot Doug Wright, Northwing,which continued to make advancements in overall performance. If the team had 100 more yards, it most likely would have made the pass to claim second. On the livestream commentary, American Power Boat Association Offshore chairman Rich Luhrs said the Northwing boat exhibited the best ride and attitude of all the boats in the class.

With two victories to far this week, the Jackhammer team is poised to earn its first Super Stock-class world championship.

After finishing toward the back of the pack on Wednesday, owner/throttleman Billy Allen and driver John Strama made their way through the 11-boat fleet to fourth on Friday in their 32-foot Doug Wright, Team Allen Lawn Care and Landscaping. Throttleman Scott Porta and driver AJ Bogino took fifth in the 32-foot Doug Wright, CoCo’s Monkey. The RWO world championships are the first opportunity that Porta has had to throttle a boat with the Mercury Racing 300Rs and he said he’s getting used to the power curve and where to find acceleration in the boat.

While Jackhammer seems to have a comfortable lead going into Sunday, the battle for the other two podium spots will be tight in Super Stock. The next seven boats in the class are separated by 59 points so the finale’s double points will play a key role.

Running with the Class 1 boats, the three Fountain V-bottoms in VX class were the loudest on the course. The 40-foot Skater, Race Winning Brands, with driver Ed Wendt and throttleman Bill McComb had a good battle at first with  driver Christian McCauley and throttleman Jay Healy in the 42-foot Fountain, Team Farnsworth/Hancock Claims, but the fight was short lived as the latter pulled away on the second lap and never looked back. Race Winning Brands held on for second place while driver Kirk Britto and throttleman Robert Brockyer took third in the 42-foot Fountain, Team 25.

Team Farnsworth/Hancock Claims is two for two in the Extreme V class heading into Sunday’s contest.

“Our guys worked really hard to get where they are now,” said Farnsworth after the win. For those who know Key West, the hard work is yet to come.

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