On Paper, It appears that the 2011 Gold Cup race has two groups of contenders: Spirit of Qatar and everybody else. With the Oh Boy! Oberto-Miss Madison team forced to race with a leased boat and a backup driver this weekend, it becomes a question of whether or not anyone in the field can even hope to compete with Dave Villwock. Before we begin the coronation, however, remember that the Detroit River is probably the most unpredictable venue and race course on the Unlimited Hydroplane tour. On more than one occasion, a team has rolled into the Horace Dodge pits in Detroit the hands on favorite to win the Gold Cup and ended the Sunday races with a lot of broken boat parts and questions of what might have been. Added to the facts that the Qatar boat just underwent major repairs and a number of teams are likely to pull out all the stops in order to win the Gold Cup that means that while Villwock is the clear-cut favorite to win the Gold Cup this weekend for his record breaking 63rd win, it is by no means a shoo-in
The U-1 Oh Boy! Oberto-Miss Madison repeated at Madison but in the costliest of manners. After their frightening accident in last week's Final Heat, the team is forced to go with a leased hull (the U-9) and a backup driver (Jon Zimmerman). While both the hull and driver are definitely able and U-1 crew chief Mike Hanson probably knows more about the U-9 hull than anyone alive, it is no secret that there will be a dropoff in performance from what the team is used to. Zimmerman showed last year that he is able to perform well in seemingly impossible situations though and it shouldn't be a surprise to see this boat in the final heat.
The U-17 Miss Red Dot grabbed a surprising second place finish last week that put the cap on a great weekend where Kip Brown was able to win two heats, although Kip would be those first to say that the U-17 benefitted from some generous heat draws. Cal Phipps takes the wheel for Detroit and although he showed last year that he is capable of handling an Unlimited it is hard to tell how he will handle the new assignment. The team is coming into Detroit with a lot of questions, but could potentially be a Dark Horse.
The U-96 Spirit of Qatar Rolls into Detroit the hands on favorite and it would almost appear that the 2011 Gold Cup is setting up as a type of exhibition for Dave Villwock's 63rd win. With a team that has won in Detroit the last three years and the Oberto-Madison team forced to use a leased boat, it's their race to lose. Of course, they don't race on paper and the boat did just undergo major repairs (albeit with a very skilled crew) so it is left to be seen how the boat will respond.
Few Unlimited drivers have given as strong debut performance in recent years as Scott Liddycoat in the U-7 Valken.com did in Madison. Liddycoat and the U-7 showed that they will be a force to be reckoned with this season. It shouldn't be a surprise for Liddycoat to score his first heat win in Detrot, and with teammate Jeff Bernard who will more than likely be there to do some "team driving" in the Final it's not outside the realm of possibility that a rookie could be raising the Gold Cup on Sunday
Liddycoat's teammate Jeff Bernard and the U-5 Graham Trucking has perhaps even a better shot at the Gold Cup. Bernard showed in Madison that he can grab the lane he wants and was running away with the win in Heat 3A before the heat had to be stopped. Although he was left out on the front row of Madison he should have no trouble getting there for Detroit, and if his teammate is there they could make a move to grab lanes one and two. Aside from the U-96, the U-5 probably has the best chance of winning the Gold Cup.
The U-21 Go Fast, Turn Left Racing was putting together a respectable day at Madison until a horrific accident ended their day. The boat sustained a damaged sponson but as of Thursday the boat is repaired and they are on their way to Detroit. It is left to be seen how Brian Perkins and the team will respond after their accident in Madison, but this team could make a strong showing. It is not outside the realm of possibility for the U-21 to win a heat or two in Detroit.
The U-11 Peters & May looked good in qualifying at Madison but had to settle for two third places in the preliminary heats when the boat was put into some very difficult draws. The U-11 hull (the former U-25) showed improvement over last season with a new look and different setups. JW Myers is coming back to the site of his accident from last season and will probably be ready to make an impact. If the U-11 can improve upon their heat performances from last week they should be able to make it to the Final Heat and perhaps even finish on the podium.
Mark Evans drove the U-57 Formulaboats.com to two third place finishes in heat racing in his first race back in Madison since 2003. This week Evans returns to the place where in 2003 he had a blowover accident that left him with a badly broken leg and put his career on hiatus. Detroit could see the first fruits of the New Driver Development Program if Bianca Bononcini gets some time behind the wheel. The U-57 could sneak into the Final Heat.
The U-100 Leland Unlimited made a respectable showing in Madison but also had a gearbox issue. It is unclear at this point how much of an improvement that the switching of hulls made for the U-100 team but there is a step up. Greg Hopp is a skilled driver in the fighting for lanes format and in rough water so the team should be able to turn in respectable performance at Detroit.
Speaking of teams with different boats this season, the U-22 Webster Racing showed they still have some bugs to iron out in their newly acquired hull. Although the team's performance was a step up from previous seasons, it is cleat that the team still needs to get used to their new hull. Of course, the former Miss Madison hull has always performed well in rough water and if the Detroit River is its usual self then Mike Webster could find himself in the Final Heat.
The U-88 Degree Men's new hull comes into Detroit almost completely untested after they were only to lay down one hot lap in testing at Madison. Presumably they will fix the issue with their canopy door that forced the team to return from their maiden voyage and record a DNS in heat 2B. While the new hull clearly needs some more testing, J. Michael Kelly could find himself in the Final Heat and perhaps even on the podium if the boat and the river cooperate.
Ken Mukatel's U-25 Superior Racing never left the trailer in Madison and the driver and crew will still need some getting used to their new hull. Muskatel's team has made some solid showings in the past (remember in 2006 when they were leading in points after the Saturday heats?) but not much should be expected from the U-25 this year. If the U-25 is able to get in the water and finish their heats then that would be considered a good day for the team, and Ken Muskatel should be commended just for showing up after his major heart surgery in the off season.