In what was easily the finest moment so far of the 2016 Super Boat International season, the Performance Boat Center, STIHL and WHM Motorsports raceboats headed into the first turn on the first lap of last weekend’s Great Lakes Super Boat Grand Prix in Michigan City, Ind., three abreast. The trio of Skater catamarans swept though the turn without altering their lines or appearing to scrub too much speed, and when they came out Performance Boat Center held a small lead over WHM Motorsports, which was followed closely—at least on the first lap—by STIHL. As it turned out, that also was the finishing order for the Superboat-class catamarans 18 laps later.
Grant Bruggemann: “I know we have to take it one step at a time to turn Jake into the professional, awesome driver and champion he will become.” Photo courtesy/copyright Pete Boden/Shoot 2 Thrill Pix.
But that first turn stole the show—it even topped a couple of spinouts by the hard-charging Billy Mauff and Jay Muller in WHM Motorsports. That turn was so perfect it almost looked choreographed. For veteran offshore racers Mauff and Muller, as well John Tomlinson and Myrick Coil in Performance Boat Center and STIHL throttleman Grant Bruggemann, it was just another day in the office. But for Jake Noble, the STIHL team’s rookie driver, it was yet another lesson among the thousands he’s been learning so far this year.
“It was pure, absolute excitement,” said the 29-year-old driver, who is racing this season to honor his father, the late Robert “J.R.” Noble. “To be a rookie driver and go into that turn with them and hang with them, it was awesome.”
With three events down this season and three to go (including three-race SBI World Championships in November in Key West, Fla.), STIHL has earned three third-place finishes. Those are more-than-solid results for a team in a brand-new boat—a 38-foot Skater—and a brand-new driver rookie driver in domestic offshore powerboat racing’s most competitive class. They are exceptional results, especially considering the STIHL team’s tragic loss of its longtime driver and overall leader early this year.
Jake Noble: “I’d rather take it slowly and continue to progress than break something, wreck or having an incident.” Photo courtesy/copyright Pete Boden/Shoot 2 Thrill Pix.
“Our progress is coming along fine,” said Bruggemann. “Slowly but surely Jake is getting more experience with other boats on the course. He’s learning different entry points into the turns. He’s learning how to deal with lap traffic. The whole team is jelling together, and we’re putting in the seat time to test so that we can finish each race and bring back the boat in one piece, with both of its motors running and right side up.”
While Bruggemann described Noble’s overall comfort level in the boat as much improved since the season began, he said his driver’s greatest area of improvement has been getting the boat through the turns. Noble agreed.
“Flanking other boats in turns without drifting too far away or getting too close to them, I definitely feel more comfortable,” he said. “But I hadn’t done anything like that first turn in Michigan City, especially being on the inside and having to turn the boat harder because there was no other option. That was a first for me.”
Bruggemann said there’s more to come from the STIHL team during the second half of the season, which resumes Aug. 26-29 in Mentor, Ohio.
“Shortly coming up you are going to see the STIHL team up front messing around with the other guys,” said Bruggemann. “By no means have we been holding back, but we have been progressively pushing it at different times to give Jake a taste of what it’s like to run alongside other boats up front. There’s a lot going on. Until you get in there, at that speed, and take the responsibility of running a $1 million boat, you have no idea. A lot of us have made it seem pretty easy from a spectator’s point of view over the years, but it’s not.
“We are definitely happy with our progress so far, but there’s also that ‘inner champion’ in us that wants to focus on winning,” he continued. “I know we have to take it one step at a time to turn Jake into the professional, awesome driver and champion he will become.”
For his part, Noble is grateful—and joyful—for the opportunity. “I am having a blast,” he said. “Friday night in Michigan City, the WHM guys took me and my girlfriend out to dinner, just so we could get to know each other. They are some of the nicest people, and they’re fun to race with. Our team is so locked down. Everyone knows what to do it and when to do it. And Grant is great in the boat. He explains everything so well.
“I am super happy with the way it’s going,” he added. “I’d rather take it slowly and continue to progress than break something, wreck or having an incident. I feel comfortable building up a little bit at a time in nice, slow increments.”
For the third time in as many races, the STIHL team (Bruggemann and Noble at center holding plaque) took third place in Michigan City. Photo courtesy/copyright STIHL Offshore Racing.
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