Sunday, July 31, 2011

Tri-Cities Recap: An unpredictable weekend with a predictable result.

                After a weekend full of dramatic racing and surprise winners, there was a familiar site in the top two places on the podium.
David Villwock drove the Spirit of Qatar to another victory this weekend, with Steve David finishing second in the Oh Boy! Oberto.  The 2011 Columbia Cup, however, should be remembered for much more than yet another 1-2 finish for the two teams who have all but dominated Unlimited Hydroplane racing the last five seasons.  It was a weekend full of great deck to deck battles, a number of surprise heat wins, a great amount of controversy, and a number of drivers and teams emerging or turning the corner.  In short, it was an extraordinary weekend of racing with an ordinary finish.
A fourteen boat fleet for the weekend meant every section of heats this weekend would be of the A, B, and C variety.  In heat 1A J. Michael  Kelly put the Degree Men boat in lane one and was first coming out of the turn, but Villwock quickly pulled away in the Qatar boat Kelly finishing second, Myers finishing third in the Peters & May, Evans fourth, and Hopp trailing the field in the newly named Beacon Plumbing after his boat went dead in the water during the score up period and he was late to the start.  Heat 1B saw the weekend’s first great deck to deck battle as teammates Jeff Bernard and Scott Liddycoat battled it out for three laps.  Bernard came out on top in the Graham Trucking.  Liddycoat finished second in the Valken Sports but was docked 50 points due to encroaching on the U-21 (by the way, I still hate point penalties).  Brian Perkins finished third in the Albert Lee while Mike Webster trailed the field in the U-22 Project WSU. The U-99 HAPO Credit Union was supposed to start with Greg Hopp in the seat but recorded a DNS.   1C saw the first big drama of the weekend as Steve David was early to the scoreup buoy and was penalized a lap.  This dropped the Oh Boy! Oberto to fourth and allowed Kip Brown to get yet another heat victory in the Miss Red Dot.  Jon Zimmerman finished second in the Miss and Ken Muskatel scored his first points of the year in the 97 Rock. 
Heat 2A takes the prize for this weekend’s controversial heat.  I was just getting home from work so I missed watching it live, but from what I understand this is what happened: The U-11 washed down both the U-17 and the U-1 prior to the start.  The U-17 was able to quickly refire but the U-1 struggled and was very late to the start.  Kip Brown was able to win once again with Steve David finishing second on the water after making a great comeback, but that was nowhere near the end of it.  After the race was over, it was determined that.  Steve David encroached on the U-21 and was assessed a one minute penalty, thus dropping him to fifth.  So the final order was this: 1st U-17, 2nd U-11 with a 50 point penalty, 3rd U-9, 4th U-21, 5th U-1.  This heat is a perfect example of why I feel H1 should do away with point penalties.  There’s no real rhyme or reason to them.  In this heat there were two infractions similar in nature, and yet one as a 50 point penalty and one is a one minute penalty.  Also, somewhere on the drive from Detroit to Tri-Cities 150 point penalties became 50 point penalties.  I’m a huge supporter of H1 and what they have done for the sport, but this is one inconsistency that drives me mad.  The system of penalizing boats one lap (or one minute if an infraction was caught after the heat was completed) or a disqualification depending on the infraction worked just fine.  Yes it will always come down to a judgment call on whether or not a penalty was committed, but the penalty itself shouldn’t be a decision between one or the other.  There really is no need to penalize teams points when there are other alternatives.
Heat 2B saw another great deck to deck battle between Bernard and Liddycoat, but this time Liddycoat came out on top.  Hopp finished third while Muskatel finished fourth and Ryan Mallow, who was set to make his Unlimited debut, did not start in the U-99.  Heat 2C saw Dave Villwock pull away from the field early for an easy heat win.  Kelly finished second while Webster finished third.  Evans finished fourth and was penalized twice in the for lane infractions, one a monetary fine and one a point penalty (no comment…).
Steve David came into Heat 3A desperately needing a Heat win and did just that, pulling away from the field early.  Kelly had the inside lane and finished second while Webster finished third, Jon Zimmerman fourth, and Greg Hopp fifth.  I must say that the Webster team should be commended for making such a huge improvement from their first two races of the year.  After trailing the field in Madison and scoring no points in Detroit, the U-22 was right there this weekend.  The purchase of the former Miss Madison hull is starting to show itself as a benefit for the team and they should improve at every race as they get more comfortable with their new ride.  Heat 3A saw something that has never occurred in history:  The current Miss Madison hull, and two former Miss Madison hulls, all competing in the same heat.  Heat 3B was another victory for the Miss Red Dot as Kip Brown led wire to wire.  Brian Perkins turned in another strong performance and was second, while Mark Evans was third and Ken Muskatel fourth.  In Heat 3C Villwock led wire to wire followed by Bernard, Liddycoat, and Myers. 
As the points for the Final Heat were tabulated, it was revealed that the U-1 had scored just enough points to make it to the final.  There was talk in the broadcast that “everything went the way it needed” for the Oberto to make the Final, this isn’t the case.  A look at the Heat 3 results shows there weren’t any huge surprises in any of the heats.  After a weekend where nothing went right for the U-1, Steve David had to win his heat, and he did just that to take his rightful spot in the final.
The Final Heat was a barn burner.  I think I said this before, but the new starting procedures have made this year’s heat starts some of the most exciting since I started following the sport.  The score up period saw the U-5, U-7, and the U-88 all slow to a crawl, then the U-5 sped up and did another lap, then the U-1 joined them.  After passing the one minute buoy everyone seemed to charge down the backstretch then slow to a crawl again.  The starts to Final Heats are always excitable times for me, but this was downright nuts!  I love it.  After all the craziness ended, the U-7 and U-88 were in lanes one and two but made crawling starts, the U-1 made a perfect start from lane three, the U-96 was late to the start in lane four, while the U-17 and the U-5 were on the outside.  For the first two laps, it appeared to be Steve David’s race, as he had more than a roostertail lead at the backstretch of the second lap, but then Villwock closed the gap and David was only ahead by a few boat lengths at the start of the fourth lap.  Then something weird happened.  Steve David’s roostertail  went way down as he slowed considerably, the two boats were very close going into the corner, but on the backstretch Villwock had opened up a two roostertail lead.  Villwock went on to the victory with Steve David finishing second.  Kip Brown grabbed third.  The U-5 and the U-88 had a great battle for fourth, with Bernard nipping Kelly at the line.  Liddycoat finished sixth.  Brian Perkins finished sixth on the water but was penalized a lap due to striking a buoy and was dropped to seventh.
This was an all-around fantastic weekend of racing.  Yes there was some controversy but that will happen and it shouldn’t take away from a great day on the water and on the beach.  The Tri-Cities Water Follies always puts on a whale of a show and this year was no different.  It should also be mentioned that the Grand Prix West boats put on a good show, although only six boats showed up.  Greg Hopp won the Final for the GPW’s.  And of course the Vintage boats put on a good exhibition as well.
Another thing that should be mentioned is that Kip Brown and the U-17 Our Gang Racing team has been nothing short of spectacular so far this season.  Although it was expected for the team to turn a corner this season, I didn’t expect this.  I must say that after Tri-Cities, I’m a believer.  The team has shown it can beat some of the best boats out there on the water.  The hydro media, people on hydroplane forums, or even humble hydroplane bloggers can no longer say that the U-17 is just getting easy heat draws.  They’re winning their heats and running with the big boys.
What is left to be seen, however, is if ANYONE can compete with the U-1 or the U-96.  These last three races have seen everything imaginable being thrown at the two top teams in the sport, and yet Oberto won at Madison and Qatar won at Detroit and Tri-Cities.  Villwock and the U-96 team obviously deserve a lot of credit for their perfect weekend, but Steve David and the Miss Madison team likewise deserve credit for nearly winning the race after horrendous first and second heats.  At the end of a wild weekend in Tri-Cities, the two top teams have once again shown their dominance.  On to Seattle.

As a quick note, if you’re a regular or even a casual reader of this blog you’ll want to make sure to check in quite often this week.  Between Monday and Friday I plan to write at least three posts barring unforeseen circumstances, and there could easily be more than three posts in the likely case that news breaks this week in the world of Unlimited Hydroplane racing.  So if you haven’t already please either bookmark or become a follower of Thunder The Bridge, as this week there will be multiple posts and multiple updates to read.

And finally, Thunder The Bridge wants to wish you and yours the happiest of Shark Weeks.

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