A year ago this weekend, people were beginning to openly wonder if anyone would be able to beat the combination of Dave Villwock, the expert crew of Ellstrom manufacturing, and the financial backing of the QMSF on the water. Steve David quieted much of this speculation after winning a classic deck to deck duel in the Oh Boy! Oberto-Miss Madison and winning the final at Seattle in 2010.
A year later, people were once again beginning to question if Villwock and the U-96 could be defeated on the water. After winning four of the last five races, their only loss coming after the accident in Madison, and eleven straight heat victories. Questions of if anyone in the field could step up and beat the U-96 were once again being asked. Once again Steve David and the Miss Madison team stepped up to the challenge, and this time the Qatar boat was soundly beaten on Lake Washington. A month after their boat sat in pieces in the Miss Madison garage, the Oh Boy! Oberto-Miss Madison has come all the way back.
Seattle was another top-notch event in a year that has been full of great racing. While there have been complaints that the inclusion of the air show, promotional events, and wakeboarding competition (?) have dilluted the importance of the hydroplanes at Seafair, the Unlimiteds simply stepped up and had another weekend full of spectacular deck to deck racing. The Unlimited Lights also put on a decent show as did the Vintage Hydroplanes. I would like to see P1 boats make an appearance at Tri-Cities and Seattle next year, but it might be hard to squeeze another series into an already crowded schedule. Even at an event with a multitude of diversions, the Unlimiteds once again put on the best show.
Heat 1A was pretty routine, with Villwock and the U-96 taking first place. The U-17 and the U-21 engaged in a great deck to deck duel, with Kip Brown nipping Brian Perkins at the line. It proved to be all for naught, as the U-21 was disqualified after tech inspection revealed a fragrant fuel violation. This allowed Scott Liddycoat, who had been late to the start, to finish third in the U-7 Valken.com while the U-57 finished fourth and the U-25 finished fifth. The U-11 lost it's prop as it left the dock and didn't make a start.
Heat 1B saw Jeff Bernard grab the inside lane at the start, but Steve David was able to drive around
him after one lap to give the U-1 the victory. Bernard finished second. Mike Webster, driving a boat that was performing better than it has all season, finished third after a great deck to deck duel with the U-9 who finished fourth. The 88 had to cut through the infiled before the start after J.Michael Kelly was early to the score up buoy and finished fifth, the U-100 didn't finish.
Heat 2A was another barn burner. The start featured a lot of dicing before the 1 minute period, but then the boats flew around the course. The 88 went dead in the water in the first turn of the first lap. It was determined that the U-17 cut him off and Kip Brown was initally given a one lap penalty but it was later determined that the foul was flagrant enough to disqualify the U-17 and penalize him 150 points. The U-5 and the U-7 had another great deck to deck duel, with Scott Liddycoat nipping teammate Jeff Bernard at the line. The U-21 finished fourth while the U-100 finished fifth and the U-25 trailed.
Heat 2B was another great deck to deck duel, this time between the U-1 and the U-96, with Villwock barely nipping David at the line. The U-9 finished third while the U-57 finished fourth. The U-22 was bumped at some point during the heat and didn't finish. They also had enough damage to the hull to necessitate withdrawing for the day, which is a shame considering how well the team qualified and performed in the first heat. The U-11 also recorded a DNF and was penalized 50 points for an infraction in the heat.
The first attempt to run Heat 3A had to be red flagged when the U-7 lost a prop while trolling before the start and was in the middle of the first turn. This meant that Heat 3B would be run first. The U-1 went down on power during the milling period and was late to the start. This allowed the U-96 to win the heat easily. The U-1 made an effort to chase down the U-5 but Jeff Bernard was able to hold Steve David off and finish second. David's effort to chase down Bernard proved to be futile, as David was given a fuel violation and the U-1 was disqualified from the heat. This allowed the U-57 to finish third. The U-22 and the U-11 were scheduled to race in this heat but never left the trailer.
Heat 3A's rerun was another great duel in a year when great deck to deck duels are becoming the norm rather then the exception. This time the duel was between the U-21 and the 88, with Brian Perkins coming out on top and J. Michael Kelly finishing second. Kip Brown finished third in the U-17. The U-100 was penalized a lap and finished fifth, allowing Ken Muskatel to finish fourth in the U-25, in a boat that very much looked like a 5 litre hydroplane after losing its stabilizer and cowling during the heat.
One of the interesting paradoxes about the Seattle race is that it has one of the busiest schedules of any stop on the H1 Unlimited Air National Guard tour, and yet they're the only race site that manages to squeeze in a provisional heat. For the second year in a row, the Seattle Provisional was a great race. The U-11, U-17, and 88 were all looking to rebound from disappointing weekends so the heat wasn't without top flight boats. In the end the 88 grabbed the inside lane and was able to hold off the U-17 to earn the trailer position in the Final.
The Final Heat began as most other heats had during the weekend, with many boats trolling in the first turn. Steve David was behind the field, but then made a daring move after the 1 minute gun where he sped around the field and went inside to grab lane one, pushing the rest of the field out. Steve David was first out of the first turn, with Villwock and Liddycoat on his hip. For the first three laps the order was 1-96-7, with Liddycoat not backing down and Villwock in hot pursuit of the U-1. Then, on the backstretch of lap four, Liddycoat pulled off a cunning move that would have been spectacular for any veteran driver, let alone a rookie like Liddycoat. Running on the inside, Liddycoat war running slightly behind the U-96, but then crossed the U-1's wake and successfully executed a clean hip check on Villwock. While this was going on, Steve David was able to pull even further away and won the Final Heat by a wide margin. The U-7 finished and the U-96 in third, a full roostertail behind the U-7. The 88 was able to go all the way from the trailer spot to grab a fourth place finish, a testiment to how well that boat can perform and Kelly's talent behind the wheel. The U-5 finished fifth, considerably lower than might have been expected but when competition is this tight in the sport occasionally boats will get lost in the shuffle. The U-57 finished sixth, and Mark Evans and the crew deserve a great amount of credit for being able to finish all of their heats on a weekend when attrition was widespread. The U-21 apparently developed some kind of problem (the Kiro feed didn't mention anything about it) and wasn't able to finish the heat.
All in all, it was another fantastic weekend of fantastic boat racing in a year full of great racing for H1. Seafair put on a great show. I realize there is a lot of grumblings about how much time is given during the day to the air shows, but both the air show and hydroplane make for a great weekend of racing. Anyway, the air show helps to draw fans who might not otherwise come to an event that's solely boat racing. The Unlimiteds were still the stars of the show, with some great deck to deck duels and a number of great performances. The Miss Madison team deserves a great amount of credit. A month ago at this time, the boat was sitting in their garage with two damaged sponsons. A month later, the team is back in their familiar spot at the top of the podium. While the High Point title is probably still out of reach, the team has shown that they can rebound from even the most dire of situations. It is still left to be seen if anyone in the field can step up to challenge the U-1 and the U-96, but if today's performance is any indication then Scott Liddycoat might be right there very soon. On to San Diego.
As always, there will be the usual hiatus in the schedule between the Seattle and San Diego races so we'll have to wait another six weeks before another race. It's always a little crazy as a fan of the sport to get so excited after the multiple race weekends in close succession (made all the more exciting this year by all the great racing that has taken place at all four race sites so far) then wait a month and a half for the next race. With a Houston race slated for next year hopefully there won't be such a long hiatus in future seasons, and it would be nice to have another race in the future to further fill in the gap between Seattle and San Diego.
I should also note that, along with the H1 Unlimited Series, Thunder The Bridge will be going on a bit of a hiatus for the next few weeks. Not only is there a six week break in the hydroplane schedule, but in those six weeks I will be moving to a new apartment as well as starting a new job, so needless to say I'm not going to have a lot of time to sit down and blog. I'll still probably do a historical piece or two in that time, and if any news breaks in that time I'll do a commentary on that. Just don't expect the posts to come as fast and furious as they have been coming over the last few weeks. Thanks to everyone who has been reading this blog, I never expected this to take off in the manner it has. I really enjoy writing these posts, and the fact that I have gotten so much positive feedback makes writing this blog even more enjoyable.