Without question, the 2015 offshore racing season was the toughest stretch that the five partners in the Miss GEICO Offshore Racing team—Scott Begovich, Scott Colton, Gary Goodell, Marc Granet and Gary Stray—have had to endure since they banded together in 2011. The team went from taking Super Boat International Unlimited-Class World Championships in 2013 and 2014 to struggling to finish a race last year. Primarily caused by water temperature issues according to team manager Stray—who earlier today spoke on the record for the first time since the 2015 SBI Worlds in Key West, Fla.—engine problems plagued the team from the SBI season-opener in Cocoa Beach, Fla., to the final race in Key West.
In 2013, the Miss GEICO team ran Mercury Racing’s then-new 1650 engines in its 44-foot-long Victory catamaran. (Read the story.) The high-profile partnership between the offshore racing outfit and the engine builder lasted a year, but for economic reasons the two parties parted ways and Miss GEICO started its own in-house engine program based on the quad overhead cam, turbocharged engine platform. To manage the program, the team brought on Harold Grady, who Stray had worked with during his days as a crewmember and chief with the Dubai-based Victory team in the late 1990s.
“Last year, we had issues that were plain to see,” said Stray. “What you have to remember, though, was that in 2014 we won plenty of races—and a world championship—with our own in-house engine program. We went with Mercury Racing in 2013, and personally I have to say I love those guys. I had no trouble working with them and if I’d had my choice I’d probably still be working with them—if things had worked out that way. The 1650 is a great platform, and a great engine package.
Gary Stray: “Deep down, I am a racer I want to beat everyone, and I want to do everything over the top. But you have to look at the big picture.” Photo courtesy/copyright by Mary Tobiassen
“But some stuff was out of my hands, and I had deal with what I was dealt,” he continued. “So we took our engine program in house. But people tend to forget that we won with Mercury and we won without them.”
Stray readily admitted that in 2015 the team was chasing higher power-output levels with its engine program, which was a major part of the problem—and that it won’t be part of the program this year. Nor will Grady, who Stray said “helped us a lot” but is no longer with the team.
“Yes, we were trying to make more power,” he said. “Obviously, we’re a race team. The first thing you look for is the ‘low-hanging fruit’ to make more power, and sometimes that means you take a step backward before you go forward. To be honest, the basic platform wasn’t ready for it. And looking back, one of the things we did wrong was that we went at it full bore with a big number of engines rather than doing it with a couple of engines and verifying it. It’s a big learning curve—a very steep learning curve—when you start changing things. We learned a hell of a lot about what to do, and what not to do.
“At the end of last season, we decided now is the time to hit the reset button—that it was time for a change—and that’s what we’ve done,” he continued. “We have a employed a group of engineers to help us develop our engine program and make it reliable again. The main thing we’re looking for is bringing back reliability, slowing down the program, making small steps and finishing races in 2016 by going back to a more basic engine platform. I believe we have some very smart people working on the project, but at this time I can’t reveal who they are.”
Stray reemphasized that coaxing the most power possible out of the team’s engine is not a goal. The first set of engines for the 2016 season is coming together, he said, and he has “a good feeling about them.” What’s more, he believes all of the water temperature-related issues have been eradicated.
Stray also added that the Victory catamaran the team purchased as a back-up boat has been sold and is heading to an offshore racing team in Trinidad and Tobago.
“Deep down, I am a racer,” Stray said. “I want to beat everyone, and I want to do everything over the top. But you have to look at the big picture. We don’t just have to make ourselves happy, we have to make GEICO, our sponsor, happy. We have an obligation, and they’d rather see us do 10 laps in second place than two laps in first before we break. Don’t get me wrong, GEICO wants to win—they’re winners. But what we have to do is start over, and that begins by taking baby steps and finishing races. So we’ve hit the reset button.”