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Sanborn On Powerboat P1 USA: “No Change in the Plan”

Yesterday’s announcement by Powerboat P1 chairman Asif Rangoonwalla that the organization was shelving its Evolution and Super Sport classes for the 2010 season stunned the offshore racing community. The Evolution and Super Sport classes, which exist in the Union Internationale Motonautique rulebook and are based on power-to-weight ratios, produced healthy fleets and close competition. Powerboat P1’s lavish events consistently drew large crowds.

From the sidelines at least, it appeared that Powerboat P1—a contracted promoter to UIM—had everything headed in the right direction. But there was a major catch: In seven years, the series had yet to produce a return on Rangoonwalla’s 30 million Euro investment.

So what went wrong? And what about the future of Powerboat P1 USA, which planned—and still plans—to establish the Evolution and Super Sport classes here? (From a domestic perspective, Evolution correlates to Super V, while Super Sport correlates to Factory 2.)

To find out, I caught up with Martin Sanborn, the director of North American operations, for Powerboat P1 USA early this morning. Here’s what he had to say:

Asif Rangoonwalla’s statement yesterday was disappointing and a little shocking given that you’re trying to bring the Evolution and Super Sport classes here. And it must make your job a lot harder.

There’s no doubt about that and, yes, it’s disappointing. But what P1 USA is doing is identifying and utilizing a set of rules that bring together a bunch of existing equipment and have it race under the same format. I am not asking anyone to do anything differently. I am more of a promoter of a class structure than a series.

Given that Powerboat P1 has shelved the Evolution and Super Sport classes in Europe, why should the United States offshore racing community embrace them here?

I would answer that question with a question: What do the racers have to lose by consolidating their classes, while still being able to run wherever and with whoever they want to run and becoming more professional? To run in those classes, all they have to do is comply with the rules and be part of APBA (American Power Boat Association).  They can run with OPA, SBI, OSS, whoever, as long as they’re members of APBA.

Why weren’t the Evolution and Super Sport classes financially successful in Europe?

In terms of Europe, the big boats are not as viable over there as they are over here. There are logistical issues traveling from country to country. And they (Powerboat P1) had to educate a fan base from scratch.

What makes you believe those classes will succeed here?

These formats, Super Sport and Evolution, will sell boats. They are similar to the formats we had when offshore racing had huge boat counts and the marine industry thrived. Factory 2 was the perfect example of that. Every performance-boat manufacturer had a boat that could compete, and they were selling boats.

All of the boats that dominated in Powerboat P1 were from the U.S. We have the equipment, we have the infrastructure, we have the venues and we have the fan base. The teams here are begging for this kind of consolidation. As the U.S. model expands and gets traction, the sport will move from being a hobby to something a lot more professional.

There is no change in the plan for Powerboat P1 USA. Asif is in this for the long haul

Really? Why?

He sees the momentum and excitement we have generated over here. He is absolutely committed to growing this sport. If he were going to pull the plug, he would have just pulled the plug. It wouldn’t have changed his lifestyle. He thinks that growing Evolution and Super Sport in the U.S., is what needs to happen. At the end of the day, he knows that the U.S. market is the bottom line to the whole thing.

I’ve told him that we have one shot at the U.S. market to do what we say we’re going to do with teams and vendors. He understands that and is committed to making the investment. He’s in for the long haul. Frankly if it can’t happen with the kind of money this guy is putting in, we should all just quit trying and go poker running.

Part of the early plan for Powerboat P1 here and abroad was to have a truly international world championship. With the Evolution and Super Sport classes at least temporarily done in Europe, how can that happen?

Well, it certainly can’t exist for 2011 but I had said we would have a global event every two or three years. Absolutely, the intention is to bring back the Evolution and Super Sport classes on a global level. But first we have to build them here.

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