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SBI Cocoa Beach Season-Opener Delivers Delight and Disappointment

For one of the few times in the seven-year history of the Super Boat International Space Coast Grand Prix, the Cocoa Beach, Fla., venue failed to live up to its big-water billing. But while today’s mild sea conditions translated to less-than-usual airtime for the 20-plus offshore raceboats spread across seven classes on the 5-1/2-mile oval course, there were several compelling races, starting with what appeared to be Papa’s Pilar Rum’s final straightaway victory over Reliable Services Group in the Stock-class contest.

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John Tomlinson and Myrick Coil brought Performance Boat Center its first Superboat-class victory. Photos courtesy/copyright Pete Boden/Shoot 2 Thrill Pix.

Early in the nine-lap Stock-class race, Papa’s Pilar Rum, a 32-foot Doug Wright catamaran, throttled by Scott Porta and driven by Mike Fosse, tangled with throttleman Gary Ballough and driver Chris Schoenbohm in FJ Propeller, another 32-foot Doug Wright cat. The crash effectively knocked FJ Propeller—the fastest cat at the start of the race—out of the running. Papa’s Pilar kept chasing and gaining ground, nearly spinning at one point near the exit of the second turn, on throttleman Ryan Beckley and driver Tanner Lewis in Reliable Services Group, a 30-foot Skater Powerboats catamaran.

“My wife told me I could race until I got one more checkered flag,” said Porta, who announced his retirement from the sport at the end of last season but had a change of heart. “Now, I’m all out of excuses.”

But as it happened, Porta isn’t out of excuses. Papa’s Pilar Rum passed Reliable Services Group on the 10th lap of the nine-lap contest, which meant the Stock-class win went to Beckley and Lewis.

“We always race pretty well with those guys,” Beckley said. “Gary (Ballough) clearly had speed on all of us, but the crash knocked him out of contention.”

Beckley said he was able to run the Skater’s 280-hp, 2.5-litre outboard engines wide open for the entire race. “That’s very rare for Cocoa Beach,” he said. “It’s happened maybe two or three times in seven years.”

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The Phantom 9 team’s flat-water setup proved to be the ticket for a dominant win in the Superboat Vee class.

There was no such drama in the Superboat Vee class, which like the Stock class and Manufacturer 3 (Developer took first) and Manufacturer 4 (Babcock Crazy Chicken earned top honors) classes, ran in the first race of the day. Phantom 9 throttleman/owner Mark Niemann and driver Tom Maddalena led from wire to wire in the team’s 30-foot single-engine Phantom.

“We had a really good race,” Neimann said. “We made a decision to go with a flat-water setup, and it worked out. Cocoa Beach is usually rough, but we guessed right and got lucky.”

The second contest of the day saw Peter Meyer, the owner and throttleman of the 40-foot AMH Construction/Instigator Fountain, and driver Johnny Stanch run uncontested in the Superboat Extreme class. (Neither the Twisted Metal nor Outerlimits teams participated in the Cocoa Beach event.) The glassy water of the first race was replaced with small white caps as the afternoon breeze kicked up to 12 mph by the time green flag dropped, but by Cocoa Beach standards conditions were tame.

Picking up right where he left off last season, defending Unlimited-class world champion Bob Bull teamed up with throttleman Jeff Harris in Wake Effects, a 48-foot MTI catamaran that ran under Bull’s CMS team umbrella in 2015, took an early lead in the 14-lap contest and never let go. (Wake Effects is an MTI dealer at the Lake of the Ozarks in Central Missouri.) Team CRC/Sunlight Supply, another 48-foot MTI cat, driven by owner Mike DeFrees and throttled by Ballough, finished second.

While Bull and Harris were teammates in different MTI catamarans on the CMS team last year, today’s race was the first time they shared the cockpit. (Bull filled in today for Wake Effects’ Rusty Rahm, who was attending his daughter’s high school graduation.) During the race, the duo saw speeds of more than 160 mph—not a common occurrence at the Cocoa Beach venue.

“Now I can put it in my book that I won a race with Jeff Harris,” Bull said, then laughed.

For more action from the SBI Space Coast Grand Prix, check out the slideshow above.

As for the Miss GEICO team, which worked hard in the off-season to build reliability into the engine program for its 44-foot Victory catamaran and was hoping for a fresh start at today’s SBI season-opener, it exited the race on the way to the milling area with an oil pump issue. With new Mercury Racing 1,550-hp engines under the hatch, the 48-foot Lucas Oil/SilverHook boat—the only V-bottom in the class—fared better, but also departed early with a mechanical issue.

Saving the best for last, SBI’s premiere Superboat class boasted six teams in building 2- to 3-foot frothy seas, thanks to 20-mph winds.

Running a Skater 388 catamaran, Performance Boat Center throttleman John Tomlinson and driver Myrick Coil grabbed the lead from WHM Motorsports a couple of laps after the start and never let it go. They were chased, at first closely, by defending Superboat-class world champions owner/driver Billy Mauff and throttleman Jay Muller in the WHM Skater.

Running third behind WHM Motorsports were Grant Bruggemann and driver Jake Noble—in his Superboat-class racing debut—in the STIHL team’s new 38-foot Skater. About one-third of the way through the 14-lap contest, the Cleveland Construction Skater 388 manned by driver Edward Smith and throttleman Keith Holmes took over third position and STIHL dropped to fourth place.

Cleveland Construction chased WHM Motorsports hard and took over second place in the waning laps when Mauff and Muller pulled of the course with a mechanical issue. That moved STIHL back into third place, and that was how they finished with Cleveland Construction in second and Performance Boat Center taking the checkered flag.

“We got a bad start—I couldn’t see through the roostertails—so we just followed Billy in WHM,” said Tomlinson, who in his first race for the Performance Boat Center team also notched his first Superboat-class victory. “I think it took us about two laps to catch Billy and get out front. From there, we just tried to hold onto our lead. It got bumpy and we ended up over-propped, but I guess everybody else was over-propped, too.

“Between Friday and Saturday, we got about a race worth’s of testing in,” he continued. “I thought we’d do well because the boat felt good, but you never know. It was a challenging race and a lot of fun. In this class, everybody is equally matched and you have to drive hard all the time, every time, to win.”

Well-known in top-speed shootout circles, driver Kenny Mungle and throttleman Michael Lee Lockwood made their rookie offshore racing debut in Gone Again/STIHL, the STIHL team’s former Skater 388. They finished in fourth place ahead of Sailor Jerry/Autonation, which had an engine issue midway through the race, according to the 40-foot MTI catamaran’s owner and driver, Randy Sweers, and took sixth. (WHM Motorsports ended up fifth.)

Editor’s note: All results are unofficial pending final verification from SBI. Look for coverage of the next SBI race June 24-26 in Marathon, Fla., on speedonthewater.com. You can also catch all the races live on the SBI livestream.

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