First off, a correction. Yesterday I reported that qualifying points had depreciated this year and the top qualifier would be awarded 40 points. I was going by what had been announced over the Madison Regatta public address. However the H1 Unlimited website and the Madison Courier both report that the top qualifier is still being awarded 100 points as has been the case the last few years. My apologies for the confusion.
The morning started off with heavy fog. One of those mornings where you could stand on the Indiana riverbank and not see Kentucky due to the fog. This happens once aweek or so in Madison during the summertime and this was one of those mornings. As a result, the schedule was pushed back about an hour or so but the patrol boats did a good job of making sure the river wasn't full of debris as has happened in previous years at regatta with such heavy fog.
The morning test session saw the U-22 make its debut with the 1988-06 as well as a vast improvement for the U-5. The U-1 made an interesting move as Steve David practiced some crawling starts in his timing run. The boat was able to go almost at a snail's pace in the first turn while staying on plane, then quickly accelerate as he left the corner. After the morning testing session, the new 88 degree men finally made its long awaited debut in the pits. It didn't get in the water and it's unclear if the boat will get in the water at all this weekend. Also, the U-25 has yet to leave their trailer either. I'm not sure if either boat will be allowed to test in the morning and compete in heat action, but I certianly hope so. The more boats the merrier.
Heat 1A included the U-1, the U-5, and the U-11. Jeff Bernard and Steve David both left at the five minute mark but the U-11 didn't leave the dock until there were less than two minutes before the start of the heat and was well off the pace at the start. Jeff Bernard crossed the exit pin buoy well before the 45 second mark and was forced to cut the course. This allowed Steve David to pick up an easy victory in the first heat of the year, while Jeff Bernard finished second and JW Myers finished third, actually getting lapped by both the U-1 and the U-5 before the end of the heat (remember these are five lap heats around a shorter course). In an interview after the heat Jeff Bernard said he thought that he had to be behind the exit pin buoy with one minute to go, not 45 seconds. He said that it was discussed in the drivers' meeting that the time would be 45 seconds and he knew that going into the heat but once he got out there he went back to what he remembered from limited racing.
Heat 1B saw the best start of the day with the U-21 in lane one, the U-100 in lane two, and the U-96 in lane three all being close to the line as the clock hit zero with the U-57 trailing. Brian Perkins was able to hold on to the lead for a lap but was overtaken by Dave Villwock from the outside on the backstretch of lap two and cruised to the victory. Perkins held the U-21 close to the buoys, which in Madison means that the boat is going to lose a lot of speed and be caught in some pretty rough water. The U-21 and U-100 battled for second for a few laps untl Greg Hopp was given a one lap penalty for encroaching on the U-21. This allowed Perkins to finish second and Mark Evans in the U-57 to finish third, while the U-100 came in fourth.
Heat 1C was a historical anomaly: Kip Brown, Mike Webster, and Scott Liddycoat were the drivers in the heat, and none of them had ever won a heat in Unlimited hydroplane competition. Of course, this was the debut for Scott Liddycoat and as per rookie rules he was forced to start on the outside and behind the field. Mike Webster in the U-22 was late to the line and the U-7 had actually passed him at the beginning of the race. Kip Brown wired the start and the U-17 looked like it might be challenged for the lead by the U-7 but went on to win the heat by a few roostertails for Kip Brown's first unlimited heat victory. The U-7 finished a solid second, while the U-22 finished third in which Mike Webster crossed the finish line and immediately turned the boat into the infield then turned off the engine. I'm not sure what the issue was, but apparently it's nothing major since he is slated to race again in Heat 2A tomorrow.
After the Unlimited Heats, the P1 boats took the water in the late afternoon. First was a heat for the very loud Super V and Super V lights boats, which actually saw both classes on the water at once. The boats were loud and fast but lumbered through the corners, but that can be expected since this is probably one of the smallest, if not the smallest course these boats will race on this year. Only one Super V boat ran in the heat, but he put on a great show for the fans as he screamed around the field. The Super V lights saw a great deck to deck race for first with the winner being little more than a boat length in front of the second place Pirate Boat (yes, that really is its name). Next was the P1 Panther class. This is a class that is new to America this year and involves stock racing boats where the boats are bought ready to race with very few modifications allowed. It also has to be the quietest raceboats I have ever seen or "heard" race. They had match races for the Panther class today but the start and finish lane was on the far end of the course while the boats raced in an odd drag race where each boat raced on an equidistant but differently laid out course. I don't like match racing or drag racing that much anyway, and I found these races less than interesting. I'm really excited about seeing the Panthers run their endurance race tomorrow, though.
The rule changes for the H1 worked beautifully. It was a welcome site to see the return of the "race before the race" and while the start to Heat 1A was shoddy, it was nice to see that level of strategy and intrigue return to Unlimited racing. As for the new shorter course, it didn't result in the carnage that the detracters (me among them) imagined, but it also didn't tighten up the competition as the supporters imagined. Of course, the heat racing on Sunday could be more telling of the new course's "true colors." It was also nice to see five lap preliminary heats, which is something that I have voiced my support of for years. I'm not sure how I feel about the final heat being extra laps though, but I guess I'll find out on Sunday. See you then.