The H1 Unlimited Air National Guard Series resumes this weekend in Tri-Cities. After stops in Madison and Detroit that were by no means left wanting for drama and excitement, the tour heads to the site that has, in recent years, served as a turning point in the season. Oh Boy! Oberto-Miss Madison has won the last three Columbia Cups, and all three years the Tri-Cities race has played a crucial role in the Oberto-Madison team's winning of the High Point Championship. In fact, six of the last seven Tri-Cities race winners have gone on to win the High Point Championship. So will Tri-Cities be another triumph for Oberto? Or will another team have a big weekend to solidify their campaign for the High Point title? Or will a boat buck the trend of recent history and pull of an upset? Only time will tell.
Tri-Cities does quite possibly the best job in the country of promoting their Unlimited Hydroplane race, and this year is no different. This year, H1 Unlimited has partnered with WSU-Tri-Cities for a "Fueling for Follies" event with a focus on biofuels and alternative energy. Of course the Miss Boeing has done exhibitions in the past using biofuels so now H1 is apparently going to expand their interest, and I feel this is great. The more enviromentally conscience H1 chooses to be the better in my opinion, and not to mention H1 could be at the forefront of developing alternative energy not only for racing but perhaps even for commercial use if they choose to go that route.
No less than fourteen boats will be in the pits at Tri-Cities, and not only that but all fourteen boats have at the very least local sponsorship for this weekend's race. The added media exposure is clearly paying dividends for all the teams this season, and a pits full of boats with sponsors is a welcome site.
The U-17 Miss Red Dot comes into Tri-Cities with a scant 82 point lead. This is a team that has clearly turned a corner, but it is also no secret that they have benefitted from some good heat draws at Detroit and especially at Madison. This boat should be a contender in Tri-Cities, although it is left to be seen if they can run with the top-flight boats on the water.
The first two races has been a tale of two cities for the U-96 Spirit of Qatar, as they have experienced a horrific accident in Madison but then scored a historic victory for Dave Villwock at the Detroit Gold Cup. The team showed a lot of grit in Detroit when they were able to not only do major repairs between the Madison and Detroit races but quickly replace a broken gearbox in Detroit in between heats. The Ellstrom-Qatar team has had a rough go of it the last two years in Tri-Cities, where costly penalties left the door open for the Oberto-Madison team to win the races and take the lead in the High Point standings. If there is one team that doesn't want recent history to repeat itself in Tri-Cities, it's the U-96.
The U-5 Graham Trucking has arguably been the most consistent boat so far this season aside from the U-17, scoring a good number of points at both races while finishing fourth at Madison and third in Detroit. The new rule changes have been a large benefit for Jeff Bernard, who has shown his unique abilities at the start of a heat. The move he pulled off at the Final Heat in Detroit was marvelous, and if he hadn't gotten into Villwock's roostertail during the heat then he could have scored the victory. Jeff Bernard has performed well in the Tri-Cities, scoring podium finishes each of the last three seasons. They still haven't finished at the top of the podium though, although it wouldn't be a surprise if that changed this weekend.
The U-7 Valken.com has like its teammate been very consistent at the beginning of the season. Scott Liddycoat has been nothing less than phenomenal over the first two races of his rookie season and has consistently put the T-6 hull at the front of the pack. If he scores his first career victory, at Tri-Cities or at any of the remaining races in 2011, noone will be that shocked.
After having to lease the Jones Racing hull and missing the cut for the Final Heat at Detroit, the U-1 Oh Boy! Oberto-Miss Madison team finds themselves in unfamiliar territory: fifth place in the High Points and over 600 points from the lead. The shark boat has undergone extensive repair and will be ready for Tri-Cities, although it won't be completely painted. Tri-Cities serves as the best site for a potential rebound for the team, as they have won this race three times in a row. If they are going to get back on track for a fourth straight title, this weekend is the time to do it.
A popular sponsor is returning to the sport in Tri-Cities, as Fred Leland's first entry will run as the U-100 Beacon Plumbing. The Leland team has been solid if not spectacular at the beginning of the season, and Greg Hopp has scored a good number of points at both races. The U-100 could very well find themselves on the front row of the Final Heat in Tri-Cities
The URG picked up local sponsorship for Tri-Cities and will run as the U-11 Stevenson Roofing presents Miss Peters & May. The team has had an uneven start to the season, failing to qualify for either Final Heat although they did win a preliminary heat in Detroit (although it should be noted that the "winner" of that heat also doubled as "the only boat that finished"). Tri-Cities could be a breakout performance for this team, and noone should count JW Myers out of any race.
The 88 Degree Men had a great showing in Detroit after showing up late to Madison and not being able to score any points. There is still clearly work to be done on dialing in the new hull, but when J. Michael Kelly and the crew get more accustomed to the boat the rest of the fleet should look out. Especially impressive has been Kelly's ability to put the boat on the inside lane and keep it on the buoys. This boat could finish on the podium at Tri-Cities and perhaps even walk away with the Columbia Cup when all is said and done this weekend.
The U-21 Albert Lee has had perhaps the worst luck of any team so far this season, where untimely penalties, difficult heat draws, and a horrific accident in Madison has put the team in ninth place in the High Points. Albert Lee appliances returns as a sponsor for this team, and Brian Perkins certainly has the talent to drive the team to a turnaround. Their luck has to improve at some point (because to be blunt it can't get much worse), and Tri-Cities could be just the place to do that.
The U-57 Formulaboats.com has performed well so far this season. Although they haven't made the cut for either Final Heat, Mark Evans has pefrormed well in a comeback role and to be honest the team has their hull running better than it has in a decade. Bianca Bononcini should get some more laps in during testing runs, although I would guess she is quite a ways off from heat action or even being officially qualified as a driver. Mark Evans and the crew will continue to plug away and do exceptionally well, considering what they have to run with.
The U-22 Great Scott! Presents Campaign WSU has also been a victim of some bad luck to start the year, finishing third and fourth in their two heats at Madison and failing to score a single point in Detroit. Clearly the crew still needs time to dial in their newly acquired hull. The relatively new team made it to their first Final Heat at the 2009 Columbia Cup, but for a repeat performance they will need to rebound in a big way.
Ken Muskatel's entry will run in Tri-Cities as the U-25 97 Rock. This isn't the same radio station that sponsored the "Miss Rock" Hydroplanes for much of the 1990's, but it's always nice to have another sponsor on board. The team has yet to score a point or even start a heat in 2011 so clearly there's room for improvement. All in all, this is a team that deserves credit just for showing up after Muskatel's surgery in the off season. Here's to hoping that they're able to finish some heats in the Tri-Cities.
The U-9 Mis VisitTri-Cities.com will officially be making its debut this weekend, although both the boat and the driver were in Detroit filling in for Oh Boy! Oberto and Steve David. The Jones Racing team has years of experience, although they have only been a sporadic presence on the tour since 2003. Jon Zimmerman, only in his second year, has shown a great amount of ability behind the wheel of an Unlimited. Although the boat and driver missed the cut for the final in Detroit, the team and driver has the potential to sneak into the Final Heat in Tri-Cities.
A second Leland hull will race in Tri-Cities as the U-99 Miss HAPO Credit Union. GP regular Ryan Mallow will get the opportunity to qualify as a driver this weekend. Early indications are the team will be using the black and maroon hull that the Lelands used over the previous two seasons as their primary hull. Mallow is a talented driver and this should be the first of many Unlimited rides for his career. As for this weekend, they shouldn't expect much, but rookies have surprised us in the past.