Offshore powerboat racing isn’t a sport with much team continuity. It’s the nature of the sport because, truth be told, the turnover rate is pretty high compared to other motorsports. At the Sarasota Powerboat Grand Prix on July 2, two veteran teams proved that experience matters with impressive wins in the sport’s premier classes.
Darren Nicholson and Giovanni Carpitella of the 222 Offshore Australia team have been demonstrating the strength of experience in the last two years of Class 1 offshore competition and took a well-deserved win in the Sarasota Powerboat Grand Prix. Photos by Pete Boden copyright Shoot 2 Thrill Pix
First, Darren Nicholson of Australia and Giovanni Carpitella of Italy in the 47-foot Victory cat, 222 Offshore Australia, earned the pole position with the fastest qualifying effort on Saturday during the third round of the American Power Boat Association Offshore National Championship Series. That gave them the advantage of having the inside lane for Sunday’s five-boat Class 1 race.
“It makes a big difference,” Nicholson said of having the inside line. “The guy who’s second and third needs to go around the outside.”
At the start of the 10-lap race on the 6-mile course in the Gulf of Mexico, initially, the boat in the outside lane, the 50-foot Mystic, dfYoung, with owner/throttleman Rich Wyatt and driver Hugh Fuller, and owner/throttleman Alex Pratt and driver Miles Jennings in their 48-foot MTI, XINSURANCE/Good Boy Vodka. Also making a strong start were Tyler Miller and driver Myrick Coil in their 40-foot Skater, Monster Energy/M CON, a new boat that fans have been eager to see on the water.
Though there is much work to be done, Tyler Miller and Myrick Coil demonstrated that their new Monster Energy/M CON Skater 438 catamaran can hang with the Class 1 pack.
The second day of competition presented by P1 Offshore in Sarasota had four races to entertain the throngs of fans crowding the white-sand beaches on the West Coast of Florida. Veteran racers were comparing the turnout to decades past that have made this site one of the most popular in offshore racing.
By the time the Class 1 fleet reached the first turn, 222 Offshore Australia had taken advantage of its inside position and moved to the lead with the other 47-foot Victory, Huski Ice Spritz, with throttleman Steve Curtis and driver Brit Lilly in lane two giving chase.
Throttleman John Tomlinson and driver Travis Pastrana in the 50-foot Victory, Pothole Heroes, was a little bit off the pace.
It didn’t take long for attrition to continue to plague the event as it did on Saturday. One of dfYoung’s Mercury Racing 1,100-hp engines went into guardian mode, a setting that reduces rpm or shuts down the motor to keep it from destroying itself. Wyatt made the smart decision to keep running because as the old saying goes, “to finish first, first you must finish.”
Attrition was rough on the Class 1 fleet, but it looked spectacular at the start.
Next to pull off the course was Pothole Heroes, which was struggling with cooling issues on one of its engines. This reduced the fleet to three boats, but that didn’t last much longer Pratt and Jennings pulled into the infield of the course in the X/GBV MTI.
This left 222 Offshore Australia comfortably out front with Huski Ice Spritz giving chase. Monster Energy/M CON hurt a motor but continued to run on one engine to accumulate as many points as possible.
Nicholson and Carpitella have been in this position before. At the 2022 and 2023 Cocoa Beach races, the duo lead handily from the start only to be bitten by mechanical gremlins and have victory snatched away in the final yards of the race. In last year’s Sarasota race, they moved out to an early lead, but the Huski team tracked them down.
This time around, 222 Offshore Australia had the good luck. “Bilge pumps were coming on and off,” Nicholson said. “It was good to get across the line.” Huski Ice Spritz finished second and dfYoung limped across the line in third, grabbing valuable points in the world championship standings.
Curtis and Lilly were the ones with the bad luck this time around, when a stainless-steel water line leading into a sea strainer broke. “It’s boat racing, so that’s part of what it is,” Lilly said. “Losing is what makes winning so fun.”
It wasn’t the finish Wyatt wanted, but the start was something to be optimistic about.
“We had a good start,” Wyatt said. “I know the boat’s fast.” The team had been having problems with water-pressure spikes blowing hoses off their fittings. Wyatt opted to modify the water pickups to reduce the amount of intake so they didn’t bring in so much water as to blow off hoses.
“We were just trying to get through this one without blowing a hose,” said Wyatt.
Seat Time Matters
What come as a surprise to some is that Nicholson is a former competitive sailor. He started racing offshore 12 years ago and jumped in with both feet. When he’s not racing Class 1 in the United States, Nicholson joins Carpitella in X-Cat competition in the United Arab Emirates and he campaigns a sistership to his Class 1 Victory cat with Super Cat engines in Australia with Peter “Muddy” McGrath, who is the team crew chief for the Class 1 boat. McGrath and Nicholson have both logged time with the well-known Maritimo Class 1 boats and Nicholson has raced in Australia’s famed Bridge-to-Bridge race.
That has led to an in-boat partnership between Nicholson and Carpitella that is almost instinctive. Factor in the experience that McGrath brings for setup and it’s no wonder the boat is almost always out front at some point during a race.
“I figured early on I’m too old to try to learn enough about it, so I make sure the people around me are better than me,” Nicholson said. “Everybody has their input including Giovanni and Pete and I’ll listen in and I’ll give input on how I want to go around the corners.
“The last three weekends we’ve been racing and getting plenty of seat time,” he continued. “You get dialed into the conditions. A lot of this is cornering fast. When you come to the corner the throttleman and the driver need to be very much on the ball.”
With eight teams in the mix, the Super Cat contest was the most entertaining contest of the day.
Before the Class 1 boats, the Super Cats took to the course to wage a 10-lap battle. The 38-foot Skater, Dirty Money, with the new team of throttleman Bill Pyburn and driver Jason Ventura had the inside lane. The boat showed impressive speed at Cocoa Beach, but some navigational issues moved it back in the final standings.
When the green flag waved, two of the most experienced teams in the class moved to the front. Miller and Coil run a 38-foot Skater, M CON/Monster Energy, in Super Cat and while they don’t have the years together in the cockpit, they have tons of hours together because Miller keeps all his boats at Performance Boat Center in Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri.
Running in second place were owner/driver Wayne Valder and throttleman Grant Bruggemann in the oldest boat in the Super Cat fleet, the 42-foot MTI, Valder Yachts/Pro Floors Racing. The in-boat team has been together since 2018 and their combined experience let them realize that they could keep M CON/Monster Energy in striking distance. On the last corner of the last lap, M CON/Monster Energy broke a fitting in the water system that caused the starboard engine to overheat and cause a small fire.
The Super Cat fleet put on a solid performance for the fans on Lido Beach, but Valder Yachts/Pro Floors Racing (top center) stole the show.
“The fitting off the water cooler on the back side of the bell housing, the fitting broke and caused the engine to heat up and almost melt down and once that happened, we started losing fuel pressure and oil pressure and it was so hot it started itself on fire,” Miller said.
That left the door open for Valder/Pro Floors to move into first and take the win.
“We were very persistent and didn’t give up,” said Bruggemann. “M CON didn’t make any mistakes. You’re entering the turns at more than 130 mph. I need to have some trust in my driver to not lift.”
The conditions on the six-mile course were such that the boats in Class 1 and Super Cat could pretty much run wide open.
It was the end to a long 24 hours for the team that had been up until 2 a.m. Sunday before returning to the Grant’s Custom Rigging Shop in Bradenton, Fla., at 6 a.m. to get the boat ready to race. When the team finished testing, Bruggemann returned to the crane area and had to leave the boat at a dock waiting until it could be hauled out.
When the team hauled the boat and flushed the engines, it determined that the tip of a valve had broken off. The team hauled the boat back to its shop only about 10 minutes from the pits and the crew of John Gregory, Joe Green, Logan Smolic and Andrew Young and his dad worked until 2 a.m. to make the repairs that would make the boat ready to run.
M CON/Monster Energy kept things together while the 38-foot Skater, Graydel, with owner/driver Chris Grant and throttleman Billy Moore improved their calm-water setup and took the final spot on the podium.
“I’m not going to say we were the fastest boat out there, but we’ve been massaging some stuff, moving weight around and just refining propellers,” said Moore.
Behind Graydel, attrition took its toll in Super Cat as many of the boats in the teams in the eight-boat fleet experienced mechanical issues.
The final race of the day saw five boats in the 450R Factory Stock class and two in the popular VX V-bottom class take to the course. At the start of the 450R Factory Stock race, owner/throttleman Michel Karsenti and driver Ervin Grant in the 38-foot Doug Wright, Gladiator Canados, had the inside lane with Tomlinson and driver Taylor Scism in the 39-foot MTI, TS Motorsports, in lane two and the 38-foot Doug Wright, Waves And Wheels, with throttleman Ricky Maldonado and driver Logan Adan in lane three. When the green flag waved, it appeared that Tomlinson and Scism got pinched because they started to climb the roostertails of the two boats in lanes one and three, indicating that someone pinched in on their lane, cutting them off.
The TS Motorsports team of Taylor Scism overcame a tough situation at the start to claim victory in the 450R Factory Stock class.
“We were able to get back into our lane and in the chaos, everyone missed their turn buoy as far as tracking it,” Scism said. “We were halfway down the course and I started going right to make our turn and left a lane and went through the turn. I could track where we were turning.”
Again, seat time helped Scism get her bearings because she could follow her tracks from running eight laps the previous day. Once the team got on track, it was uncatchable. Maldonado and Adan tried to make a late-race challenge but came up just short on a last-lap charge.
“My biggest motto is run your race and they kept updating us on timing from the beach,” Scism said. “You need to finish and we just kept doing what we needed to do. The results are unofficial until officials tell us otherwise.”
The VX race featured two loud fan-favorite Fountains. Win Farnsworth continued his foray into the sport, fielding the 40-foot Fountain, Team Farnsworth/Hancock Claims Consultants with driver Christian McCauley and throttleman Jay Healy. They ran against fellow Fountain, The Developer/Wix Filters, with Scott Brown and Eddie Tamberino. After a few entertaining laps that saw the two boats running loudly side-by-side, Team Farnsworth/Hancock Claims Consultants pulled away for the win.
Enjoy more images from the 39th annual Sarasota Powerboat Grand Prix in the slideshow above.
The first race on Sunday saw 14 boats in four classes take to the Gulf of Mexico, eight in Mod V, a single entry in Stock V, two in Bracket 200 and four in Bracket 400.
In Mod-V, the 30-foot Phantom, Laticrete, grabbed top honors over the 30-foot Extreme, LSB/Hurricane of Awesomeness and another 30-foot Extreme, Sunprint/Hooters.
“We lost our intercoms and I couldn’t talk to my driver,” said Rob Hartmann from the Laticrete team. He said that Charlie McCarthy from the Punisher team in the same class helped with boat setup and propeller selection.
“He did a fresh prop for us and put the weight where we wanted,” Hartmann said.
Steve Miklos, who owns and throttles the 30-foot Extreme, Sunprint/Hooters, with driver Steve Fehrmann said, “We were at a deficit and we were slowly working our way in.”
The boat’s port trim tab was stuck all the way down, robbing the team of speed. In the best scenario, a dragging trim tab slows a boat. In the worst, it causes a boat to spin.
Fortune did not favor the local Boatfloater.com, team last weekend but Sunprint/Hooters—its fellow Sarasota-based Mod-V counterpart—took third place.
“It was lifting the boat up,” Miklos said. “Stephen did a great job dealing with it.”
Editor’s Note: Following a review by race officials, results for the Mod V class are now different than those originally reported above. Click here for an update to this story.
In the Bracket 400 race, the 34-foot Phantom, Control Freak, with owner Mark Robbins driving, veteran Damon Marotta throttling and Craig Belfatto navigating took a close victory. Another 34-foot Phantom, Simmons Racing, with driver Jason Zolecki and owner/throttleman Jim Simmons almost snuck up on the winners to steal a win.
“Simmons was hanging out in a blind spot. We laid off so we wouldn’t break out,” Robbins said. “You can guarantee that won’t happen again.”
When it comes to his approach to racing, Robbins appeared to speak for many team owners, saying, “We abuse these things. You can’t blame it on anyone.”
Sometimes attrition wins. But other times, experienced teams make sure it doesn’t.
Inside the cockpit and out, the Mod V class doesn’t lack for color when LSB/Hurricane of Awesomeness and Fastboys Racing are on the course.
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