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HomeRacingMidwest Challenge Day No. 2—’Good For The Sport’ And Beyond

Midwest Challenge Day No. 2—’Good For The Sport’ And Beyond

When the green flag flew for the final offshore racing action Sunday at the Mercury Racing Midwest Challenge in Sheboygan, Wis., the initial competition had a David-and-Goliath feel. Owner/driver Darren Nicholson and throttleman Giovanni Carpitella looked to be continuing their dominance in their 47-foot Victory, 222 Offshore Australia.

From simple dominance to breakthrough performances, Class 1 enjoyed its finest weekend to date since its resurrection in 2019. Photos by Brad DiMaggio copyright Scrapyard Media.

The teammates had the inside lane thanks to their victory in Saturday’s 12-lap race on the 5-mile course on Lake Michigan, but the upstarts of Class 1, owner/throttleman Tyler Miller and driver Myrick Coil in the 43-foot Skater Powerboats catamaran, Monster Energy/M CON, had other ideas. Not only did they challenge the juggernaut from Down Under, they took the lead.

That didn’t last long as 222 Offshore Australia moved back to the front by the end of the first lap, but more challengers awaited. It was that way in all three classes of offshore powerboat racing for the second day of competition at the event produced by Powerboat P1. Upstarts and veterans who had just been waiting for a break either won or found their way to hard-earned podium finishes.

Although one race—the St. Petersburg Grand Prix in Southwest Florida—remains in the Class 1 World Championship Series, 222 Offshore Australia clinched the title with last weekend’s podium finishes in Sheboygan.

The weekend was a marathon for all 25 teams in the offshore classes—the event also included F1 tunnel boat racing. The Class 1 boats had been used to running a couple of qualifying laps on Saturday followed by a full race on Sunday. But in Sheboygan, qualifying took place on Friday to determine pole position for Saturday’s 12-lap race. That was followed by a 14-lap race on Sunday. The boats and teams in the other two classes—450R Factory Stock and Super Stock—also ran full races on Saturday and Sunday.

In Sunday’s Class 1 race, the other boat that raced its way onto the podium on Saturday presented an early challenge for 222 Offshore Australia. The 48-foot MTI, XINSURANCE/Good Boy Vodka, with throttleman Grant Bruggemann and driver Randy Kent, was in lane three and ran at the front from the start.

Eventually, 222 Offshore Australia got around Miller and Coil and XINSURANCE/Good Boy Vodka mounted a serious challenge as well. After losing a belt on one of their Mercury Racing 1,100-hp turbocharged engines Saturday, throttleman Steve Curtis and driver Brit Lilly in the 47-foot Victory, Huski Ice Spritz, were also vying for a podium finish.

After not getting the start they wanted, owner/throttleman Rich Wyatt and driver Hugh Fuller in the 50-footer from Mystic Powerboats, dfYoung, began working their way up through the Class 1 fleet, picking off boat after boat. The attrition that many competitors voiced concerns about after having to run three days in a row started to play a role on Sunday.

The 44-foot Outerlimits, DeFalco, with owner Mike Falco and throttleman Billy Moore pulled out first. Then dfYoung passed Monster Energy/M CON, Huski Ice Spritz, XINSURANCE/Good Boy Vodka seemingly all at once and Wyatt and Fuller set their sights on 222 Offshore Australia.

As the team let the big silver Mystic eat, the boat seemed perfectly suited for the conditions on Lake Michigan. The other 50-foot boat in the fleet, Pothole Heroes, with throttleman John Tomlinson and driver Carlos de Quesada has a scary moment in the first turn. The boat broke a power steering pump and nearly hit Huski Ice Spritz before slowing and running off the pace, trying to log as many laps as possible.

With yesterday’s Class 1 victory, the dfYoung team of owner/throttleman Rich Wyatt and driver Hugh Fuller put Mystic Powerboats back on the podium.

As is often the case in offshore racing, attrition played a key role in Sheboygan. XINSURANCE pulled off the course with a blown engine, moving Huski Ice Spritz into a third place the team needed to make up points on 222 Offshore Australia. Unfortunately, that strategy wouldn’t play out when Huski Ice Spritz pulled off the course with its own mechanical issues.

All this happened while dfYoung hunted down 222 Offshore Australia with a predatory determination. After the 2008 50-foot Mystic took the lead, Wyatt and Fuller stretched out the advantage.

“As the race went on, it just got better,” said Wyatt, who hails from Pennsylvania but keeps the boat at Herb Stotler’s shop in Sarasota, Fla. “I’ve known the boat would be fast. Yesterday was the first time Hugh and I had the chance to run some hot laps.”

Wyatt is no newcomer to offshore, having run his boat in Unlimited class with more powerful supercharged engines. Throttling the Mercury Racing engines takes a different approach because he has less power available and the turbocharged engines respond differently.

“You have to pick which waves you’re going to throttle,” Wyatt said. “It’s a different way of throttling than with the blower motors for sure.”

He and Fuller had raced together in the past, but as is so often the case in offshore, getting the Class 1 version of dfYoung to the water was a last-minute thrash and they just needed seat time to mesh. “Hugh and I are getting used to each other again,” Wyatt said. “We were more focused on getting it to finish a race. Now we can work on making it faster.”

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The Mercury Racing Midwest Challenge delivered two days of nonstop offshore racing action.

Nicholson and Carpitella held onto second even though they appeared to slow toward the end of the race, but with first- and second-place points, the 222 Offshore Australia team should have a solid lead heading into the season finale in St. Petersburg, Fla.

The veteran Wyatt was obviously happy to take the win, but he was also excited to see new teams on the Class 1 podium in Sheboygan. Speaking of the Monster Energy/M CON team, Wyatt said, “I was thrilled for them yesterday when they finished second and today when they finished third.”

Some teams benefit from attrition while others suffer at every race.

“It’s bit us in the butt the first part of the year, but it was our turn today,” said Miller after he and Coil finished in third on Sunday. “We got a great start and were right there with 222 (and one of our engines) went into guardian for low-water pressure. We went into guardian 50 or 60 times for water pressure.”

He explained that by the time he gets to the end of the first straightaway, he and Coil know if they have a competitive cat and he liked what he felt in Sheboygan. “Just to put this back on the podium does great things for Monster,” he added.

But he also knows the value of perseverance and no boat owner has been more persistent than Wyatt.

“As we were coming down the last straightaway, I was like, ‘Congrats to dfYoung and to see the ability of the different hulls doing well,’” Miller said.

By accumulating so many points in Sheboygan, Nicholson and Carpitella have laid claim to the 2023 Class 1 World Championship.

“We can’t lose, so we have the Class 1 world championship,” Nicholson said, adding that he likes seeing so many teams getting on the podium.

“For the good of the sport, it’s sensational—Monster Energy almost got us and so did XINSURANCE,” Nicholson said. “It’s super good for the sport.”

Sweet 16
Some might have expected 16-year-old Caleb Mead to be content with finishing in the runner-up spot Saturday in only his second race in the 39-foot MTI, MF Racing, with throttleman Shaun Torrente. The throttleman, however, had other plans on Sunday. He used his boat’s position in lane two to fly out in front and give his driver a lead he would never relinquish.

Competing in just his second 450R Factory Stock-class event with veteran throttleman Shaun Torrente, 16-year-old Caleb Mead departed Sheboygan with first- and second-place trophies.

The nine boats in the 450R Factory Stock fleet seemed to get through the first turn in their assigned lanes, but then all hell broke loose. The Saturday winner—the 38-foot Doug Wright, Doug Wright/Waves And Wheels with driver Logan Adan and throttleman Ricky Maldonado—was in lane one, with sistership Gladiator Canados with owner/throttleman Michel Karsenti and driver Ervin Grant, the only black competitor in offshore racing’s premier classes, in the second slot.

Coming out of turn one, Gladiator Canados stuffed into a wave right in front of Doug Wright/Waves And Wheels.

“We had a guardian right from the start and it was saying ‘engine temperature,’ and we had motor mounts destroyed on the port motor,” Maldonado said. “Gladiator hit a wave and stopped and we tried to avoid it. We had no place to go.”

The tip of one of Doug Wright/Waves and Wheels’ sponsons punched through a cowling on one of Gladiator Canados’ 450-hp Mercury Racing outboards.

With two of the three Doug Wrights hurt in the incident and the other one off the pace, the three 39-foot MTIs managed to claim bragging rights in the manufacturer’s battle.

Torrente and Mead held their advantage through the balance of the nine-lap 450R Factory Stock race with TS Motorsports/MTI teammates Taylor Scism and Tomlinson—the defending world champions—finishing second and throttleman Gary Ballough and driver Willie Cabeza picking up a podium in GC Racing.

Gary Ballough and driver Willie Cabeza in GC Racing claimed their podium-finish of the season.

“I’m very happy that it turned out like it did today; we got a good start and it helped us,” said Mead, who hadn’t even driven a boat within feet of another one until the week before in Michigan City, Ind., where it was incredibly rough. “Yesterday we got a good chance to practice that with the smoother water and being close to the other boats.”

The boat does have cameras that let the crew see what’s going on outside, but the camera on Mead’s side was out. Fortunately he had a pretty good spotter from shore helping him.

“I was talking to (MTI president) Randy Scism and I was asking him, where are the boats,” Mead said, adding that he figured out the straightaways pretty quickly and on turns, he and Torrente talked their way through. “Shaun would help me and toward the end I had the turns on my own.”

Torrente, who was celebrating a birthday in Sheboygan, was thrilled that Mead already got his first checkered flag in the sport.

Scism said that she and Tomlinson didn’t find out until after finishing Saturday’s race that one of their 450-hp Mercury Racing outboard engines was down on power. They appeared to have the issue solved when they charged out to the lead with MF Racing.

After the mess at the end of turn one, Scism said she held her lane, which left the mayhem among the Doug Wrights behind her and Tomlinson.

“You have four boats going into turn one—something has to give,” she said.

The TS Motorsports/MTI crew had some inside knowledge of what they were up against because Torrente and Mead were racing the boat that Tomlinson and Scism had run in 2022.

“That was my boat from last year and this winter we put one setup on one and the other so the boats are identical,” Scism said. “I knew going out there we had the same setup and the exact same boat. They had clean water and they did a great job and it was a good race.”

She added that when the checkered flag waved, she laughed when she was talking with her spotter, crew chief Milton Calafel, because she knew her father was the spotter for Mead and Torrente.

“I guarantee my dad was on the radio with Caleb and I was laughing about my dad telling him how to beat me,” she said.

Victory Formation
The offshore racing began Sunday with the 11 boats in Super Stock also running nine laps on the 5-mile course. After winning on Saturday, the 32-foot Victory, Jackhammer, with owner/driver Reese Langheim and throttleman Julian Maldonado, used lane one to move to an early lead.

A spectator could have thrown a blanket over the boats that gave chase, and the early challengers included Allied Construction Management and Team Allen Lawn Care and Landscaping. But it was the only other Victory hull in the class, the bright green Big East Construction, with owner/driver Cole Leibel and throttleman Ballough in second and a throng of 32-foot Doug Wrights challenging for third.

With back-to-back victories in Sheboygan last weekend, the Jackhammer team of Reese Langheim and Julian Maldonado are looking unstoppable.

The 32-foot Doug Wright LPC tripped its transom off a wave and stuffed into another wave, partially submerging. The crew of owner/throttleman Loren Peters and driver Anthony Smith Jr., were OK, but the escape hatch in the tunnel of the boat was partially dislodged and they had to head for the cranes.

This left owner/throttleman Billy Allen and driver John Strama to show their rough-water prowess as they pulled into third in their Team Allen Lawn Care 32-foot Doug Wright. Another 32-foot Doug Wright, CoCo’s Monkey, which finished third on Saturday, tried to mount a challenge on Sunday, but the father-son team of Peter and AJ Bogino came up one spot short of the podium.

Always a force to be reckoned with in rough water, Team Allen Lawncare and Landscaping finished third.

Three boats fell out of the Super Stock race with mechanical issues, but Big East Construction did not make it easy for Jackhammer, passing for the lead a couple times before the veteran team of Langheim and Maldonado pulled ahead for good.

“The challenge was good but we made it all work,” Langheim said. “We had three stuffs, but Julian is the most aggressive, enjoyable racer you’ll ever run with. He talks good. I couldn’t ask for a better teammate.”

For Big East Construction, the team’s first podium in 2023 could be the shot of positivity the it needs.

Cole Leibel and Gary Ballough broke through for their first Super Stock-class podium finish in Big East Construction.

“This was an awesome race,” Leibel said. “We had the setup just right and I had an unbelievable throttleman in the boat. It was nice to just run and have no issues. For all the hard work the team put in, to finally get on the podium was good.”

For Team Allen Lawn Care, getting on the podium was more challenging than it should have been because a trim line broke and Allen, who throttles, couldn’t adjust the trim.

“We kept the wheels on the dang thing and had a decent day,” said Allen, who admitted that he was more excited for up-and-comer Mead after his first win. “I talked to (Caleb’s) mom and dad and I’m happier for him than he probably is. It made my day to hear that he won.”

The Blue Harbor Resort host-venue hosted thousands of spectators on property for last weekend’s offshore racing action.

Total Dominance
After taking top honors in all three qualifying heats, R.J. West was the favorite going into the Formula 1 finale in Sheboygan Harbor that would feature the boats running for 16 minutes plus one lap.

Based on his dominance all weekend, West had the pole position when the starter waved the green flag and he jumped to the lead and held it for the duration of race. Dustin Terry finished second followed by Grant Shubert in third.

While the status quo may have held in the Formula 1 ranks, the Mercury Racing Midwest Challenge may have signaled a shakeup in offshore powerboat racing’s ranks moving forward.

“We were watching on livestream when Caleb (Mead) won and it was like, ‘That just happened,’” Miller said. “This weekend has been amazing. It’s really good for the sport.”

By any measure, the Mercury Racing Midwest Challenge was simply spectacular. And there are plans in the works for the event to return in 2024.

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