Thursday, August 4, 2011

Seattle Preview: Who Will be the Purse Snatcher?

The H1 Unlimited Air National Guard Series continues this weekend in Seattle.  This has already been an exciting season, and the usually highly anticipated Seafair race has an added bonus this year for the winner.  For the first time in as long as anyone can remember, there is a prize purse for the winner.  The winner will receive a $25,000 purse to be split between the owner and the driver.  In addition the winning driver will be presented a new LCD TV, an X-Box 360, and a Windows Phone.  This purse, made possible by the joint sponsorship of AT&T and LG, has already garnered a great deal of media attention and is another example that the sport is clearly heading in the right direction.

So who will grab the purse?  Thirteen boats are expected at Seafair this weekend, one less than in Tri-Cities, as the U-99 is not expected to make an appearance.  The Seattle race serves as the hometown race for the majority of the teams and drivers and always draws a huge crowd.  So along with the added bonus of racing for the prize, many of the drivers and teams have the opportunity to win in front of their hometown fans.  It's left to be seen who will step up and grab the Albert Lee Cup.

The U-96 Spirit of Qatar has won the last two races and finds itself atop the High Point standings, but the boat has taken a beating in the process.  Dave Villwock has won eight consecutive heats after not starting his first heat in Detroit due to a gearbox issue.  Upon returning to the pits after winning the Columbia Cup the boat was left without a cowling which had been lost during the Final Heat, a cracked horizontal stabilizer, a smoking engine, and a borrowed gearbox.  Needless to say this is a testimony to Villwock's willingness to put the boat on the ragged edge and the crew's ability to supply a boat for him to do just that.  It is left to be seen if the boat will continue its dominant stretch or if all the bumps the boat has taken along the way to becomming the High Point leader will catch up with the boat.

The U-17 Miss Red Dot has had a coming out party in a big way this season.  The boat finished third at Tri-Cities and has won a number of heats so far this season, including all three of their preliminary heats in Tri-Cities.  It is left to be seen if the team can step up and win a race.  With owner Nate Brown, driver Kip Brown, and most of the crew members making their home near Seattle, I'm looking for these guys to make a big effort to win their hometown race.

The U-5 Graham Trucking had another consistent weekend at Tri-Cities, finishing fourth in the Final Heat and scoring good number of points along the way.  Jeff Bernard has been one of the consistently fastest drivers during his career in the Unlimiteds, but strangely only has one podium finish in Seattle, a third place in 2008.  Obviously the team would like to step up in Seatle and look to get back into the High Point championship race.

Rookie Scott Liddycoat has been nothing short of spectacular in the U-7 so far this season.  Despite only finishing sixth in Tri-Cities, it was another consistent performance for the team throughout the weekend.  Liddycoat is already drawing comparisons to Jean Theoret, the last rookie to make this big of a splash in his first season in the Unlimiteds.  It should be mentioned that Theoret won his first race in his first appearance in Seattle, so can history repeat itself?  That's left to be seen.

The U-1 Oh Boy! Oberto had a nightmarish first and second heat at Tri-Cities followed by a victory in Heat 3A and a second place in the Final where the boat led for three laps before taking a bad hop in the first turn of the fourth lap.  Despite the overall second place finish the team was only fourth in points scored at Tri-Cities and didn't make up any distance in the High Point chase.  Steve David and the Miss Madison hull have performed well in Seattle, winning there twice.  The team needs a big weekend to get back on track, and Seattle's short course might be the place to do it.  It should also be noted that the team will have the added sponsorship of Point Inside, an online shopping company, at Seattle.

The 88 Degree Men continues to get better and better each time the new boat goes out.  The team fell victim to unlucky draws at Tri-Cities, finishing second to the U-96 twice and the U-1 once before engaging in a great deck to deck duel with the U-5 for fourth in the Final.  J. Michael Kelly has shown an ability to drive in rough water as well as put the boat in lane one, both of which will be beneficial on Seattle's rough two mile course.  At least at first glance, the boat seems almost built for short track racing, but this weekend will be the test of that.

The URG entry will race again this weekend as the U-11 Stevenson Roofing Presents Miss Peters & May.  The boat has been a consistent performer so far this year, but has yet to qualify for an elusive Final Heat.  It would be no surprise if that changed in Seattle, but this season is looking more like a year when the team is just looking to get its feet wet in their new role as team owners.

The U-21Miss Albert Lee enjoyed a bit of a rebound in Tri-Cities where the team was able to sneak into the Final Heat as the trailer.  Now they come to the race where last year Brian Perkins drove the boat to a surprise third place finish.  A repeat performance is not out of the question this year, as the boat seems to always perform well on short tracks.

The U-100 Beacon Plumbing  had a bit of an uneven day at Tri-Cities, battling engine problems all day and failing to finish higher than third in any of its preliminary heats.  Greg Hopp was able to win the GPW race, though.  With a little luck and a consistent performance, it wouldn't be a surprise to see this boat on the front row of the final.

The U-57 had their best weekend of the year so far in Tri-Cities, finishing all of their heats and engaging in some great deck to deck duels along the way.  Mark Evans has won in Seattle before, but for a repeat performance there would need to be almost historic attrition.  This team keeps improving at every race along the way and Bianca Bononcini will certainly get some more seat time in Seattle.

Webster Racing's entry will once again race as the U-22 Project WSU in Seattle.  Also, the team is being allowed to use biofuels as the boat will act as a test vehicle for the anticipated conversion to biofuels next season.  This, of course is great news (read my blog entry on the topic) and will no doubt give the team a good amount of press coverage.  In the short term, the team's focus will probably be on Mike Webster being able to finish his heats and score enough points to ensure that the team will be in the top ten in High Points and thus have a spot for the Qatar race.

The U-9 Miss had a solid day in Tri-Cities that included a surprise second place finish in Heat 1C.  Driver Jon Zimmerman has continued his reputation as being a consistent finisher on the water.  Jones Racing will obviously want to have a good performance in their hometown race, and a start in the Final Heat isn't out of the question.

Ken Muskatel's boat will race in Seattle as the U-25 Miss Procraft Windows.  The team was finally able to score some points in Tri-Cities, as they finished all three of their preliminary heats.  I expect the team to approach the remainder of the season much like the U-22, and focus their efforts on making sure they have a top ten finish if Ken Muskatel chooses to race in Qatar this year.

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