In the first cockpit pairing of throttleman/rigger Grant Bruggemann and driver Jake Noble, the STIHL offshore racing team’s new Skater Powerboats catamaran performed flawlessly yesterday in the three-foot, 15- to 20-mph wind-whipped chop of Sarasota Bay on Florida’s west coast. Final rigging of the 38-footer’s 750-hp Frank McComas-built engines with CMI exhaust systems was completed earlier this week at Bruggemann’s shop, Grant’s Signature Racing, in nearby Bradenton.
Though the channel leading to Sarasota Bay was flat, wind-whipped chop on the bay provided perfect conditions for the first test session of the new STIHL Skater catamaran. Photos courtesy/copyright Kellie Lee/Grant’s Signature Racing.
Bruggemann and Noble, who will compete together for the first time in the Super Boat International season-opener May 13-15 in Cocoa Beach, Fla., logged more than an hour-and-a-half running the Superboat-class cat. A good portion of that time, said Bruggemann, was spent simply familiarizing Noble with the cockpit systems including its five-point harnesses, communication and oxygen setups.
“Everything went as planned—nice and smooth—and it was a really good day to be out in the boat,” said Bruggemann. “It wasn’t flat, so we could go into the chop, against it, sideways.
“Jake has a lot on his plate and it’s a little overwhelming for him, but he definitely had fun,” he continued. “He’s a just like his dad—he’s a good listener. He gets it. We’re just took it one step at a time through speeds from 100 to 120 mph. It wasn’t flat out there by any means, which made it a really good first test day.”
Noble, who is driving the STIHL cat this season in honor his father, the late Robert “J.R.” Noble, agreed.
For a few more images from yesterday’s test session, see the slideshow above.
“We had a great day today, a really great day,” he. “I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but it was a lot of fun. I feel very comfortable in the boat with Grant. He’s great at communicating and explaining things, and giving me a feel for what the boat is going to do. I’m comfortable with Grant. I’ll definitely still be on a learning curve for Cocoa Beach, especially since it’s usually a rough race. There was a lot to take in today, and it was really emotional on top of that.”
As for the new boat, Bruggemann said it performed flawlessly and—all things being equal—can run with any cat in the Superboat class. “The boat was excellent,” he said. “There wasn’t a needle out of place on any of the gauges. It can perform up to the speed and level of every other boat in the fleet. Now it’s back in the shop on a dolly so we can go through it and tighten up everything. Then the tilt trailer comes back from Skater and it’s off to Cocoa Beach next Thursday. We’ll test again on Saturday before Sunday’s race.
“We’re just going to take our time, progress slowly up to race speed and not get ourselves in any silly predicaments on the racecourse,” he added.
A new driver with the Noble name isn’t the STIHL team’s only addition for the 2016 offshore racing season. The nation’s leader in “portable storage and moving solutions,” PODS had come aboard as a sponsor. While the final details of the sponsorship and the promotional cross-marketing opportunities it creates for both companies have yet to be hammered out—PODS vice president of sales Clive Burton and other representatives from the company, which is headquartered in Clearwater, Fla., will meet with the STIHL team members in Cocoa Beach before Sunday’s race—the pairing makes sense.
For openers, PODS will use the partnership, which began through a relationship formed by J.R. Noble, Burton and Bruggemann late last season, to entertain its top large-scale commercial and residential contractor clients at races throughout the season.
“It’s a huge win-win for us to be part of such a first-class team,” said Burton, who spearheaded the former sponsorship between PODS and the Broadco offshore racing team, which departed the sport following the 2015 SBI World Championships in Key West, Fla. “We know STIHL is very selective about who they put on their boat—to be part of their team in a sponsorship capacity is a privilege. I’m looking forward to sitting down and meeting with the STIHL group. And I already have a batch of customers coming to Cocoa Beach on Saturday.
“This sponsorship is an opportunity to broaden our brand recognition with the STIHL brand,” he continued. “We have a tie-in to the same customer bases. The STIHL team is a natural fit for us. We’re excited about being part of it.”
As is the team’s rookie driver. “I’m really excited—but I’m not nervous about it at all,” said Noble. “I feel comfortable with Grant. I feel safe. It’ll be nice to see how we communicate and get along in race conditions with other boats on the course. It’ll be fun. I just want to go out there and have a great time.”
Said Bruggemann (left), “We’re just going to take our time, progress slowly up to race speed and not get ourselves in any silly predicaments on the racecourse.”
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