The oldest saying in offshore powerboat racing is “to finish first, first you have to finish,” and that couldn’t have proven truer as the favorites in Super Stock and Bracket 500 succumbed well before the checkered flag waved on the first day of action at the 39th annual Sarasota Powerboat Grand Prix in Sarasota, Fla. Produced by Powerboat P1, the Grand Prix is the third race of the American Power Boat Association Offshore National Championship Series and the second race of the Union Internationale Motonautique Class 1 World Championship Series.
The Super Stock fleet at the Sarasota Powerboat Grand Prix included 11 catamarans. Photos by Pete Boden/Shoot 2 Thrill Pix
In Saturday’s final race, the 11 boats in the Super Stock class took to the Gulf of Mexico. Winds were picking up and there were white caps, but conditions were fast and racy. As they did in the first two races of the season, the 32-foot Victory catamaran, Jackhammer, with owner/driver Reese Langheim and throttleman Julian Maldonado bolted to the lead. Giving chase was a pack of boats including the 32-foot MTI cat, CMR, with driver/owner Sean Conner and John Tomlinson subbing for Shaun Torrente on throttles. Throttleman Rusty Williams and driver Myrick Coil in the 32-foot Doug Wright, Performance Boat Center/FASS Diesel Fuel Systems, were in the mix as were owner/driver Daren Kittredge and throttleman Grant Bruggemann in the 32-foot Doug Wright, Northwing Offshore.
A total of 64 teams descended on the city on the west coast of Florida that has become one of the favorite sites in offshore powerboat racing. A checkered flag from Sarasota is rivaled only by one from the world championships in Key West, Fla., in November. The weekend kicked off with a party on Friday evening where fans could meet the teams at the 10th Street ramp party followed by racing in the bracket 500, 600 and 700 classes and Super Stock boats, plus Class 1 pole position qualifying on Saturday.
The day started with calm conditions, but winds slowly built through the day and temperatures in the mid-90s added to the challenge.
It didn’t take long for the teams in the ultra-competitive Super Stock class to push the limits. The 32-foot Doug Wright, LPC, with owner/throttleman Loren Peters and driver Anthony Smith, started moving up through the fleet when it rolled on the outboard leg of the 6-mile course that had the racers navigating in a clockwise direction. Competition was halted after less than a lap. Peters and Smith were OK and the boat was hauled back to the pits.
The CMR team of Sean Conner and John Tomlinson ran a consistent race to earn the Super Stock-class checkered flag.
The carnage took its toll quickly. In that first lap, the 32-foot Doug Wright, Team Allen Lawn Care and Landscaping, appeared to have something torn off the stern and didn’t make the restart. Neither did the 32-foot Doug Wright, Team Bermuda.
After many Super Stock competitors voiced concerns about quick green flags in Cocoa Beach at the previous P1 Offshore race, the starters made sure the boats were grouped more fairly in Sarasota. When the green flag flew on the restart, Jackhammer jumped to the lead, with CMR, Performance Boat Center and the 32-foot Victory, Big East Construction, which is owned and driven by Cole Leibel and throttled by veteran Gary Ballough, giving chase in a tight pack.
It didn’t take long for attrition to rear its ugly head. Jackhammer had an engine go into guardian mode, which shuts down the 300-hp outboard to prevent more significant damage. “Nothing like stopping and going every 30 seconds,” Maldonado said. “We had a 14-second lead at the start and guardian started and never stopped.”
The team kept the boat on the same lap as the leaders and appeared to just be running for points.
CMR and Performance Boat Center battled for the lead, with each boat enjoying an advantage on different parts of the course.
“In head seas, they’d catch me, and in following seas, I’d catch them, and it went like that for a few laps,” said Tomlinson, who had raced with Coil in the Super Cat class previously and knew that he could enter a turn with his competitor/friend and not worry about any incidents or collisions.
Check out the slideshow above for more images from the Super Stock race.
Unfortunately, the battle to the finish didn’t materialize when Performance Boat Center pulled off with mechanical issues. Big East Construction moved into second and appeared to be in position for a much-needed podium finish until broken motor mounts forced Ballough to shut down one engine and limp around the course attempting to gain as many points as possible.
With CMR in the lead, Torrente, who qualified for the pole position at an F1H2O tunnel boat race on Saturday afternoon in France, watched on his cell phone while eating dinner with his family. Tomlinson and Conner took the checkered flag followed by Pete and A.J. Bogino in the 32-foot Doug Wright, CoCo’s Monkey, and Jackhammer, which kept running because the race isn’t over until the checkered flag waves.
“I’m pacing the streets of France as we walk back from dinner,” Torrente said in a message to speedonthewater.com from overseas. “It was an amazing race. Sean was turning the boat incredibly and Johnny was getting used to the boat and kept getting quicker and quicker. I’m so thankful for him sitting in for me.”
But as we always report on speedonthewater.com, all results are unofficial pending official inspections and video reviews. According to the APBA Offshore Commission chairman Rich Luhrs, four combined lane infractions at the start and post-accident restart that resulted in four yellow cards (Luhrs declined to name the penalized teams.) That, in turn, changed the official finishing order. Though CMR retained the checkered flag, Jackhammer moved into second place, followed by Big East Construction in thrid.
Almost serving as a harbinger of what was to come, the Class 1 boats took to the 6-mile course to see who would claim the coveted inside lane on Sunday afternoon. The boats ran a “get-comfortable-with-the-course” lap and then followed that with two timed laps. The fastest time would give a team the pole position on Sunday. First up was the team of throttleman Steve Curtis and driver Brit Lilly in the 47-foot Victory cat, Huski Ice Spritz.
In the end, owner/driver Darren Nicholson and throttleman Giovanni Carpitella in their own 47-foot Victory, 222 Offshore Australia, posted the fast number of the day—3:05:85. Tomlinson, who is pulling triple-duty this weekend, joined driver Travis Pastrana and clocked the third fastest time of the day in their 50-foot Victory, Pothole Heroes. The other three Class 1 entries had mechanical issues and didn’t complete a lap.
In the Bracket 500 class, throttleman Elijah Kingery and driver Eric Ullom ran a great race in their 29-foot Warlock, Bulletproof/Team Farnsworth.
Whetting Fans’ Appetites
The offshore racing action kicked off at 1 p.m. when the Bracket 500, 600 and 700 classes took to the course. Bracket racing takes a different approach because each class has a set speed limit. If a team exceeds the speed limit, it “breaks out” and is penalized for doing so.
The Bracket 500 fleet had nine teams including two 30-foot Phantoms that racing fans would consider to be favorites. Owner/driver J.J. Turk and throttleman Micheal Stancombe were the defending national champions in TFR/XINSURANCE and when the race started, they had a strong challenge from throttleman Elijah Kingery and driver Eric Ullom in the 29-foot Warlock, Bulletproof/Team Farnsworth, and the father-son team of Rob and Vincent Winoski in their 30-foot Phantom, Bronx Phantom.
Bracket racing is about more than just making sure you don’t exceed your class’ listed speed. It’s about letting your competitors drive away from you when they are going faster in the heat of competition and run the risk of doing just that. That story didn’t pan out because TFR/XINSURANCE pulled off the course with a mechanical problem first, followed by Bronx Phantom.
“We kind of knew that Bronx Phantom broke out because we were at 74.9 mph and they pulled away from us so we backed down a bit to make sure we didn’t break,” Kingery said. “We let them go and then when we saw J.J. break, half a lap later, we could hear Bronx Phantom’s motor starting to break up.”
Enjoy more pictures from the Bracket-class competition in the slideshow above.
This may have resulted in a historical finish with two 29-foot Warlocks finishing first and second in an offshore powerboat race. Hammerheads/Fly SRQ with driver Dennis Austin and throttleman Don Jackson took second followed by YabbaDabbaDo with driver Larry James and throttleman J.D. Ivines in third.
The second start of the day featured a deck-to-deck battle in Bracket 600 between a couple of 26-foot Joker V-bottoms for all five laps on the 6-mile course. George Ivey drove his new boat while Damon Marotta throttled Ivey Racing against a pair of 22-year-olds who have a big future in the sport, throttleman Ryan Stahlman and driver Reef Delanos in Freebird.
The two boats appeared to have a rope connecting their admiships cleats at the start. One took the lead and then the other but in the end Freebird continued its momentum after winning in Cocoa Beach.
“I’m definitely hooked,” said Stahlman, who started navigating in his father’s 41-foot Apache, Predator, last year. When asked what he learned from his race in Sarasota, the youngster said, “How to take corners when you have someone with you like that. You have to hold your lane.”
Finally, in the Bracket 700 class, Brian Guy, owner of the 21-foot Superboat, Jackhammer, gave a performance boat enthusiast the opportunity to check an item off his bucket list.
Instead of racing with his usual throttleman, Julian Maldonado, Guy ran with throttleman Francisco Duran, from San Juan, Puerto Rico, who is close with the Maldonado family.
Jackhammer owner and driver Brian Guy won the Bracket 700-class race with Puerto Rican Francisco Duran, who was racing in the United States for the first time, on the throttle.
“He never raced a boat in the states and he always wanted to do this,” Guy said.
Guy added that he broke a couple blades off his prop on the first lap but could still run about 56 to 57 mph in the class bracketed at a top speed of 60. The battle was behind him as a pair of 22-foot Velocitys powered by single Mercury Racing 300Rs fought for position. In the end, Dees Nuts/Meara Classic Cars took second followed by Statement Marine.
As if letting Duran check an item off his bucket list wasn’t enough, Guy’s five-year-old daughter, Kora, also was on hand to see dad win.
“She helps out and is a big supporter of mine,” Guy said.
That’s something attrition can never take away.
Spectators lined the beach in Sarasota to catch the racing action.
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