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Key West Worlds Update: Strategic Thoughts

When promoter/organizer Race World Offshore canceled all four of yesterday’s races to kick off the world championships in Key West, Fla., the move did more than keep competitors off the water. It also took away the chance to earn first-day points and the planned three-day competition format.

Does the cancellation of the first race of the Race World Offshore Key West put more or less importance on how a team finishes on Friday? Photos by Pete Boden copyright Shoot 2 Thrill Pix.

When I reached out to Race World Offshore spokesman Rodrick Cox yesterday to ask if the points structure would be altered for Friday and Sunday, he replied in the negative. Friday will be single points, while Sunday will be double points because the boats are expected to run twice the number of laps. That’s the way it’s been for at least the last decade.

This made me wonder if teams would take a different approach to Friday, especially in classes that had five or fewer entries.

“Since it’s only two races left, we need to do very well on Friday,” said Grant Bruggemann, throttleman for the CELSIUS Super Cat MTI and for the Northwing team in Super Stock. “We’re prepping the (CELSIUS) boat for a win. It’s just up to how much we want to lay on the line for a win.”

Super Cat and Super Stock have enough boats in each class—nine in the former and 13 in the latter—that a team will need to place well on Friday to be in contention for the title on Sunday. But Class 1, for example, has six boats and attrition has played a role in most races this year, so if half the fleet falls out on Friday, theoretically a team could make the podium just by running a few laps.

“It’s always about finishing—you have no shot Sunday if you break Friday,” said veteran Micheal Stancombe, who throttles for the JBS Racing team with owner/driver Jeff Stevenson. “We’ll be conservative and gather points and let the cards fall where they fall. If you finish in the top three on Friday, anybody’s got a shot.”

With the threat of high winds and torrential rains from Hurricane Nicole, which made landfall this morning near Vero Beach, Fla., as a category one storm, RWO officials had no choice but to cancel yesterday’s races out of concern for the safety of the competitors and the safety crews stationed on the course. More than likely, helicopters were grounded by the Federal Aviation Administration. These events are about more than just the competitors.

Said Micheal Stancombe, “You have no shot Sunday if you break Friday,”

For those wondering why the race schedule couldn’t be revised to run on Thursday or Saturday, the dates are set years in advance and cannot be altered because of the schedule for cruise ships entering and leaving Key West. They bring in much of the area’s tourism dollars and it’s an extreme case of the centuries-old gross tonnage rule being applied.

Even though he and driver Jay Johnson are competing in the two-boat Extreme class in their 52-foot Mystic cat, OceanCup, veteran throttleman Nigel Hook said he wouldn’t consider putting his boat on the trailer for Friday and only competing on Sunday. “You can’t take things for granted,” he said. “What if we did that and something broke on Sunday?”

Gary Ballough has one of the longest continuous participation streaks in Key West, so he’s probably considered every possible strategy through the years. He’s throttling the GC Racing boat in the 450R Factory Stock class and Big East Construction in Super Stock. Each class is powered by Mercury Racing outboards and attrition hasn’t played as big a role this season compared to other classes. In Super Stock, more DNFs have been caused by collisions heading into turn one than mechanical gremlins.

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Competitors will take what they learned during Tuesday’s test session and apply to it to tomorrow’s race.

“A three-day event would be, ‘Let’s just base hit it,’ but now because there’s two days, we’ll base hit a little harder,” Ballough said. “It’s going to lay down on these two days, so we don’t think there’s going to be a lot of attrition. We’ll push harder because we know we only have to finish two races.”

Then again, regardless of the strategy, there’s something about when the green flag waves.

“As far as CELSIUS Pro Floors is concerned, we’re going for a win on both days,” Bruggemann said. He most likely speaks for the majority of the competitors in the southern-most city of the United States this week.

The first race of the 2022 American Power Boat Association/Union Internationale Motonautique Offshore World Championships is scheduled for tomorrow at 10 a.m. Viewers can catch all the action live on the Race World Offshore Facebook page. Look for a complete report from Eric Colby tomorrow at the end of the day.

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