From July 5-8, professional offshore race teams competed in one of the biggest events of the year; the twenty-ninth Annual Suncoast Super Boat Grand Prix Festival in Sarasota, Florida. Rooster tails, tight turns and packed beaches were the order of the day, where more than 30 of the world’s fastest boats took to the Gulf waters, circling a 5.4-mile long, diamond-shaped course that stretched the length of Lido Key.
“The Sarasota race is always a very good race for us. The community really gets behind this event. The excitement starts the weekend before with various activities and continues to build throughout the week until the boats come for race weekend. When the boats arrive at Centennial Park which is just off 41st street, you can watch the excitement and the crowds build over the three days”, commented John Carbonell, President of Super Boat International. “The fans look forward to seeing the boats up close as the dry pits get really crowded in anticipation of the races on Sunday.”
The beaches in Sarasota were so full, the drivers couldn’t help but notice the crowd. Even at close to 150 mph. “It was unbelievable. I mean, wall-to-wall people,” said J.R. Noble, driver of the 38-foot Team STIHL Skater. “I’ve never seen Sarasota so packed before. It was beautiful weather and there were people everywhere.”
The SUPERBOAT Unlimited class headlined the side-by-side action that made for must-see viewing, whether it was in person or on the streaming live feed broadcast around the world. The biggest and fastest boats in the field put on a show during their 87.2-mile race, trading the lead and making passes both in the tightest of corners and along the lengthy straightaways.
Miss Geico, a 44-foot Victory making her second start this season, looked to be the class of field early but gave up the lead to Team Gasse, the big red and black catamaran. Gasse and Cintron, the 50’ Mystic then raced all day and finally to the checkers, each taking its turn at the front of the field until Cintron appeared to finally be able to hold off the 48-foot MTI during a tight turn around a pylon.
After a post-race review, however, race officials determined Cintron hit the buoy and the ensuing penalty was enough to give Gasse the win in their first start this season. Miss Geico finished third.
It wasn’t the first high-speed meeting between Fuller and Gasse owner Tor Staubo. The two drivers recounted after the race a couple other close encounters, including their first at New York City a couple years ago.
The SUPERBOAT Stock class also put together a tight race that wasn’t decided until the checkered flag flew.
In that competition, Gary Ballough knew it was going to be a race to first turn and managed to put his Frank and Jimmy’s Propellor 32-foot Doug Wright in the right spot around the buoy and then just held on for the next 11 laps as he earned the victory.
For Ballough, it was a matter of putting some Sarasota experience to work. “It was typical Sarasota water. You think it’s going to be flatter than it ends up being, but it didn’t catch us this time,” said Ballough, who estimated he has raced in Sarasota for the past 26 or 27 years. “We got it right today. We picked the right propeller, had the right set-up and the boat ran phenomenal.”
Team STIHL, which opened the season with a win at Orange Beach but ran into trouble in the past two races, got back on top of the podium after a near-perfect run by the orange Super Boat. Noble jumped out front early and was more than willing to take all the good luck that came his way this weekend.
“The boat was set up perfectly. When we got out there, the conditions were exactly what we hoped for and planned on,” Noble said. “We got to the first turn ahead of everyone, got clean water and it was no worries and no problems after that. Knock on wood it doesn’t always happen like that, but it’s real nice when it does.”
Other class winners included Miss Mary Mac in the Turbine class, Instigator in SUPERBOAT Extreme, Black Pearl in Manufacturer P3 and Two Cruel in Manufacturer P4. Boatfloater.com took home the win in the SUPERBOAT Vee class after Phantom barrel rolled out of Turn 2 on the third lap.
The next stop for Super Boat International is the fifth Annual Super Boat Great Lakes Grand Prix on Lake Michigan in Michigan City, Indiana, from August 1-4. The 2012 Grand Prix Event brought in an estimated 100,000 people and nearly 7 million dollars to the community. As reported by the NWI Times, this year should even be better, as last year’s racing action never happened due to high seas. The crowds enjoyed sunny skies and a beautiful day, however the lake had 8-10 foot waves which made it unsafe to race and unsafe for the medical rescue teams.
Super Boat teams have been racing hard all season, which started in April, and they are prepared for another exciting race in Michigan City. Along with the teams, the president of Super Boat International, John Carbonell, believes it will be a great event. “Last year was very unfortunate and something no one could have predicted. That was the first race we have had to cancel due to weather in over 500 races. The previous 3 races [4 events] have been fantastic and have been gaining momentum every year. In the event there is a threat of severe weather for Sunday, the decision will be made well in advance to run on Saturday. The LaPorte County team with Jack Arnett and Jason Miller and their entire group of volunteers make this a great event. We are proud to be the show that everyone recognizes as the area’s biggest draw and most rewarding for economic stimulus in surrounding counties.”
In the Super Vee Class, one boat looking to make their season debut on Lake Michigan is the Snowy Mountain Brewery #14 Outerlimit. Owner / throttleman, Doctor Mike Janssen, is looking forward to the race. “It’s been such a very busy year with my practice and I haven’t had the opportunity to race. However, I was able to make it to the first race of the season and support the team who purchased my Fountain ‘Watch Your Back’ Vee bottom. The people there are very nice and the town is really getting behind the event.”
There are a lot of great racers and teams this year and the race for the National Title is very close. As teams close in on the later half of the year, the boat setup and managing to make it to the end of the race is becoming some of the highest goals for teams. Making to the end of an 80-mile race might not seem like a lot, but the races this year have been in rough seas and it has been very tough on equipment. The 2013 season has seen very little of equipment failure from teams and it has proven to be a very exciting season of racing.
Teams will be arriving Friday, August 2, for the dry pits to set up their equipment. This is where fans can get an up-close look at all the boats and can get a chance to talk to their favorite teams. Teams and drivers always encourage the fans to come down and spend time in the pits, where they can get a chance to swap racing (boating) stories.
Throughout the year, competitors travel from as far away as the Middle East and Europe to compete in SBI events. The Manufacturer Production and Vee bottom boats are typically the most recognizable boats that every day boaters, which consists over 70 million Americans, would see on a given weekend. The Super Stock outboard boats are a catamaran style with twin outboard engines. The biggest and fastest boats are the large 40’ – 50’ catamaran powerboats that have up to 3000 horsepower from a combined two engines. These Super Cat style boats have some of the most unique paint schemes and are often the fan favorites.These are the world’s fastest offshore boats which can reach speeds upwards of 200 mph. The Super Boat season begins in the middle of May and runs through the second week of November, finishing with the Key West World Championships in Key West, Fla.
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