Ferociously competitive throughout their ranks, Bracket-class racers don’t need a whole lot of motivation to go racing. It’s in their blood. Yet they have plenty of it this weekend in Englewood Beach, Fla., the eight-year home of the Offshore Powerboat Association World Championships. Not only will they be vying for world titles under the OPA umbrella, they’ll be crowned American Power Boat Association and—as announced in this morning’s drivers meeting—Union Internationale Motonautique world champions.
The final race of today’s first round of the Offshore Powerboat Association World Championships in Englewood Beach, Fla., featured an action-packed Unlimited-class contest. Photos by Pete Boden/copyright Shoot 2 Thrill Pix
Anchored by those classes, this weekend’s 69-team turnout is the largest—by far—of the 2021 offshore powerboat racing season. Each day originally was slated for five races, but so strong is the showing that OPA officials actually had to add a race today, as they will again on Sunday.
Saturday’s action started with the 11-boat Bracket 700 class, which is limited to a top speed of 60 mph and ran a shortened course—two miles rather than the full four miles—for eight laps. When the mist cleared, the Punisher team took the checkered flag followed by Hangin N Bangin and Progression.
The second race of the day saw the four-team Bracket 300 class take the green flag followed by Bracket 600 with class eight teams in the mix. Both classes ran the full-length, seven-turn course with the Bracket 300 teams set for nine laps and the Bracket 600 class turning seven laps.
A little more than halfway through the contest, the Bracket 600 Vroom Vroom team’s boat rolled in turn No. 6. Both the throttleman and driver were ejected from the boat (neither was seriously injured, according to initial reports), but that forced officials to red flag and restart the race—with teams in their current running order at the time of the incident—after the course was cleared. The restart order also turned out to be the finishing order, as Team Woody took the checkered flag in Bracket 300 ahead of Elite Home Game Rooms and Typhoon, and Rum Runners, CRC/Smith Brothers and Moderation finished first, second and third in Bracket 600.
The Bracket 600 race was red-flagged after the Vroom Vroom teammates were ejected from their boat halfway through the race. The driver and throttleman were OK but speedonthewater.com has not yet confirmed if the team is going to race tomorrow.
With six teams in the field, the Bracket 400 class shared the course with the 10-boat Bracket 500 class in the third race of the day. The Bracket 400 group ran nine laps, while the Bracket 500 class ran eight laps on the course, which with a declined breeze had calmed down considerably from the first two races of the morning.
The Bracket 400 race got off to a somewhat confusing start as a few teams were out-pacing the pace boat and took off early when the starter tried to signal them back. After the boats lined back up and the restart took place, the father-and-son Saris Racing team of Jason Saris and Johnny Saris got off to the quick lead and never looked back.
“The boat ran excellent today,” Johnny Saris said following the race in which they finished ahead of Control Freak and Old School. “For a while there, Predator was right on us, waiting for us to make a mistake. We were fortunate that Predator and Old School had some problems out there. I’m sure they’ll be working hard tonight to make sure they’re ready to give us a run for our money in tomorrow’s double-points race.”
The Saris Racing team ran a smooth race to win the Bracket 400-class contest.
In one of the more exciting races of the day, the Bracket 500 checkered flag went to the Shoreline Plumbing team of Brent Appiarius and Eddie Simmons that bested the second-place Team Woody team of Micheal Stancombe and JJ Turk and the third-place Mean Streak team.
The day’s fourth race featured the Stock Vee class, which completed 10 laps, an even 40 miles, on the course with 10 teams in the mix. From the start, the LSB/Hurricane Awesomeness team—with Brit Lilly driving and throttleman Jay Muller filling in for Lilly’s normal teammate, Kevin Smith—ran away from the rest of the field in its 29-foot Extreme, but the battles for the remaining places went back and forth throughout the race.
The Relentless Woody team of Travis Pettko and Steve Papp and the North Myrtle Beach RV Resort team of Kirk Hanna and Mark Rinda raced closely for a few laps until the Relentless Woody team fell off the pace and eventually was passed by the You Gun Learn team of Dante Napoli and Mike Bocchino, which ended up finishing second after North Myrtle Beach RV Resort dropped out following a mechanical issue with only a couple of laps remaining.
The contest for third place was a good one as Relentless Woody managed to hold off the hard-charging father-and-son team of Ed Smith and Anthony Smith in the Wazzup Phantom.
“Man, we’re really living it now,” Lilly said, referring to the way the boat he built has come into its own late in the season. “We got the holeshot right away and just kept improving on it. By the end of the race I think we were a little more than a minute ahead.”
The LSB/Hurricane of Awesomeness team of Brit Lilly and Jay Muller ran away with the Stock Vee-class race.
Muller, who shared the cockpit with Lilly in the WHM Motorsports Supercat-class Skater for the Offshore World Championships in Key West, Fla., last week, was equally delighted with today’s performance.
“We did some testing and the boat felt great,” Muller said. “Brit is one of the best drivers I’ve ever been with and we’ve been having a lot of fun racing together. Whatever tomorrow throws at us, we’ll be ready for it.”
In the fifth race, the six-boat Super Stock fleet joined the two-boat Modified V class with the outboard-powered catamarans finishing 10 laps and the single-engine V-bottoms completing nine laps.
The Jackhammer team of owner and driver Reese Langheim and throttleman Julian Maldonado, who was filling in for his father, Ricky, led from start to finish in the Super Stock class. According to Langheim and Maldonado, who was thrilled to get a chance to race in the boat he’s tested many times with his father, the team picked the right setup for its Victory Team-built catamaran.
“My dad took the weekend off so I’m taking advantage of the opportunity to run with Reese this time around,” Julian Maldonado said after taking the checkered flag. “That was a fun race, a great start. We came into the corner three wide with FJ Propeller and Deep V Cats and we dove into it and I never lifted and we came out with a nice lead that we maintained for the rest of the race thanks to our team on shore guiding us the whole time.
“Our goal is to do the same thing tomorrow,” he added, looking forward to Sunday’s double-points race.
Jackhammer teammates Reese Langheim and Julian Maldonado bested five other Super Stock-class teams in Saturday’s race.
Finishing second in the Super Stock race was Gary Ballough and first-time racer Cole Leibel in the FJ Propeller Victory cat. Ballough, who has raced alongside Leibel’s uncle, world champion racer Lorne Leibel, several times in the past, praised Cole Leibel for his efforts on Saturday as FJ Propeller battled closely with the Phase5 team of Al Penta and Jay Muller, which finished third.
In the Modified V class, the Sun Print team of Steve Miklos and Steven Fehrmann cruised to an easy victory as Sheriff Lobo teammates Morgan Honnock and Shameel Mohammed battled some mechanical issues throughout the race.
The day’s final race included the two-boat Bracket 100 and Bracket 200 classes that completed 10 laps, plus the two single-boat classes—450R Factory Stock and Vee Extreme—running 11 laps each and the four-boat Unlimited fleet that had the longest race at 13 laps.
Check out the slideshow above for more images from the first round of the OPA World Championships.
In Vee Extreme, the Knucklehead Racing team finished the race under power in its 42-foot Fountain Powerboats V-bottom and the 450R Factory Stock TS Motorsports team earned another checkered flag in its MTI 390X catamaran. The Bracket 100 victory went to the Bat Boat MTI over the Cigarette Justice League team, and the Team Woody teammates of Billy Shipley and Chad Woody ran away with the Bracket 200 class in their 35-foot Fountain V-bottom.
In the fastest fleet to take to the course, the Unlimited class victory went to df young teammates Rich Wyatt and Marc Granet in Wyatt’s Mystic Powerboats cat, who battled back and forth with The Preserve RI teammates of Serafino Cazzani and Russell Clay in Cazzani’s Platinum cat. In third place were first-time teammates Jeff Stevenson and Micheal Stancombe, who were racing the JBS MTI cat powered by twin 1,100-hp, naturally aspirated engines from Detroit -based Sixteen Power that made its racing debut last weekend in Key West, Fla.
The df young team of Marc Granet and Rich Wyatt won the Unlimited class in Wyatt’s 50-foot Mystic.
“Conditions were a little bit tough out there,” Granet said. “Visibility was limited because of the rain and we were getting pushed around at times by the wind gust. And Jimmy Cazzani was pushing us from behind, so it was a lot of fun.
“Racing in the Unlimited class is a balance between going really hard one day to win and not being so hard on it that you can’t race the next day because you hurt an engine—so it’s a fine line,” he continued. “Rich did a phenomenal job throttling and preserving the equipment, and we should be ready to go tomorrow.”
Editor’s note: The final day of OPA Offshore World Championships action from Englewood Beach, Fla., is scheduled to begin at 10 a.m.
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