Arguably the best throttleman in offshore powerboat racing today, John Tomlinson spent most of his time on the sidelines this season—he ran just two domestic races this year with Mike DeFrees in the CRC catamaran. After David Scott of the multiple Anheuser-Busch-backed race boats retired a few years ago. Tomlinson was left without a solid ride.
Scott’s departure coincided with the beginning of the economic downturn, and even Tomlinson’s solid credentials including multiple offshore championships weren’t enough to keep the “hired gun” off the bench.
“After the Lake of the Ozarks Shootout, I thought that was it for the year,” said Tomlinson, who earned Top Gun honors at the late August event with Scott in a 4,000-hp Mystic catamaran. “Just when I thought racing was over for the year, I got a call from Scott Gillman.”
A world-championship-winning Formula One tunnel boat racer, Gillman manages the Dubai-based Victory team’s Formula One campaign. Victory also runs a two-boat, dominant Union Internationale Motonautique Class 1 offshore catamaran campaign, as well as fielding a third boat for Abu Dhabi. When the Abu Dhabi team needed to replace its throttleman, Gillman suggested they pursue Tomlinson.
Tomlinson is no stranger to Class 1 competition. After an undefeated 1996 season of domestic offshore racing in the Zero Defect Skater cat with Laith Pharaon, he and Pharaon campaigned the Jolly Motor catamaran to a Class 1 European title the following year.
Tomlinson said his first and only race this season—so far— wearing Abu Dhabi colors in Italy was encouraging, if unspectacular in term of results.
“We practiced well, we tested well and we qualified well,” said Tomlinson, who shares the cockpit with Rashed Al Tayer. “We just didn’t finish well.
“Thanksgiving week we race in Abu Dhabi, then I’m home for a week and then I’m back in Dubai for the final race of the season,” he added. “It looks like I’ll also race (at the Super Boat International World Championships) in Key West.”
Tomlinson that Class 1 racing is comparable to racing in the now-extinct Open class in terms of speed, but also similar to the hey-day of the Super Cat class for close competition and parity across the fleet.
“You have to race hard—there’s no taking it easy,” he explained. “It (Class 1) is very organized and very professional. The level of sophistication over there also is quite different with all the telemetry and computers. You can really dial in you set up on the racecourse. The course is open for three days, and you practice on it and race on it. There are test sessions every day, so you can go out and run, and then come back and look at exactly how you did and how you did it.”
As for next season in Class 1, Tomlinson said he had no formal plans. Although he is paid as a throttleman, his “bread and butter” business is TNT Custom Marine in North Miami.
“We’ll see what happens for next year,” he said. “Racing there takes a lot of time away from being here in Miami. Every race, I’m gone for a week.”