For whatever reason, controversy is as much a part of motorsports as speed and technology. Whenever NASCAR makes even the most minuscule change it seems to be immediately written off as "not real racing" and there are always cries of bias for a certain driver, sponsor, or even manufacturer. Formula 1 has a long history of infighting between teams as well as officials and of course there seems to be the annual rumors or mentions of Team Ferrari having enough of the FIA and leaving to form its own organization. Also, there was of course the notorious split between CART and IRL during the 1990's which caused damage to IndyCar that which the sport still hasn't really recovered. With this in mind, hydroplane racing is not without controversy of its own. Any change is met with dissent and criticism (which I sometimes take part in). It seems like every year there is at least one and usually multiple races with controversial endings and the winner being declared upon the rules. In the end, however, if these rules are not followed then the sport then the sport loses legitimacy, and more important than having a quick decision, a strong decision, and especially a popular decision is having a right decision. Today in Doha, an hour after the race and after a tireless review process, the right decision was made by the H1 officials. Despite the criticism and even the baseless attacks on H1 and what went down today, I can only hope that in the end the majority of the hydroplane fanbase will come to realize that what happened today was good for the sport, and not an example of some kind of weakness within.
In its brief history, the Oryx Cup has shown to be not only a major event for the Unlimited tour but also produces some of the most exciting pure racing seen in H1 Unlimited. This year was no different. The Friday heats featured a deal of exciting moments in six heats. A twelve boat field meant that there would be three heats per section on Friday, but unfortunately neither the U-22 or U-25 were able to make a start all weekend so only ten boats were able to score points. The only heat in which the issue was never really in doubt was Heat 2C, when Jeff Bernard was able to drive the U-5 to an easy victory over the U-57 as the U-11 and U-22 were not able to make a start in the heat, and the heat wasn't shown anyway due to technical difficulties (more on that in a moment).
For Saturday the heats were contracted to two heats per section and more exciting racing followed. In heat 3A Dave Villwock was able to drive the U-96 to a relatively easy victory, but the story was what was happening behind him. The U-100, looking better this weekend than it has in years, was able to grab a second place finish over a hard charging U-88 and U-5. Greg Hopp was able to hold his boat to the buoys and beat boats that he had finished well behind all year. The U-11 struggled at the start and finished well behind the field. In heat 3B, the U-17 was the apparent winner, but upon further review it was determined that Kip Brown had jumped the gun, thus giving the heat win to Steve David and the U-1. The U-17's penalty also moved the U-7 up to second, which raced side by side with the U-1 for much of the heat. The U-57 continued a strong weekend with a third place finish and the U-21 finished fourth.
Heat 4A saw the U-88 take a favorable heat draw and finish ahead of the field, thus securing a spot in the Final for J. Michael Kelly and the team after a relatively frustrating weekend. Steve David followed in the U-1, apparently willing to settle for second and take his chances in the final. The U-17 actually lead for nearly two laps, but salt water got into the engine in the second turn of the second lap, causing the boat to go dead in the water and putting an early end to the team's brilliant season. The U-5 trailed ant the U-57 went dead in the water on the first lap. Heat 4B was probably the most exciting preliminary heat of the weekend, with the U-7 and U-96 going deck to deck for three laps. The finish was so close it took a few minutes to determine that Scott Liddycoat had beaten Dave Villwock at the line, thus putting Liddycoat in a rare class of current drivers (Steve David and J. Michael Kelly) who have beaten Villwock head to head in recent years. Brian Perkins was able to overcome yet another unfavorable draw and steer the U-21 to third and the U-11 and U-100 trailed.
Now at this point the technical issues should be mentioned. Watching this exciting heat at home was a frustrating experience with the video stopping to buffer multiple times per minute. First off, the live feed was much improved over last year, where multiple heats (including the final) were not able to be viewed. There were still some frustrations, however, with the video stopping to buffer multiple times. This is something that needs to be addressed and will hopefully improve in the future, but I almost wonder (in my very non-technical mind) if this will always be an issue due to multiple people attempting to view the video at once and overloading the system. I also can't help but think of Formula 1 who, even with the millions of dollars that pass through that sport, still can't manage to put together a decent regular U.S. television broadcast. I'm old enough to remember a time when hydroplane results often weren't known until the Monday afternoon edition of the Madison Courier (sometimes followed by an "oh there was a race this weekend?" moment since there was nothing about the race leading up to that). That evolved into being able to listen to results same day on the WORX Radio, although there was no way of knowing when the results would be given so one would need to spend the day listening to the station;s (ahem) fine selection of music in order to get the results. Finally there were radio broadcasts of the Final Heat, although those were often postponed or not broadcast at all due to technical issues. So the sport has come a long way, but still in a society on information overdrive instant results are expected so yes even a live feed with buffering issues will be considered "not enough" for many fans. Hopefully in the future this will be addressed and live feed will be a regular part of further international expansion in hydroplane racing.
The Final Heat was another memorable moment for the event for a number of reasons. The decision was made to race the final with six boats on the front and one trailer, which I thought was only asking for trouble on the salty two mile Doha Bay course but the heat was run with no major issues due to that. As the boats approached the line, Greg Hopp pulled off one of the classic old school moves in the U-100 and charged the line from the outside lane and then suddenly slowed down in an effort to draw the other boats into jumping the gun, but it wasn't immediately clear who if anyone had jumped the gun. On the water, Steve David drove the U-1 to the lead with Scott Liddycoat in pursuit and the U-96 running in third. By the fourth lap Steve David had driven out to a comfortable lead and it was announced that it was a "clean start." The feed went offline with Steve David as the apparent winner.
When I did my routine Facebook check before work this morning, the first thing I saw was Scott Liddycoat raising the Oryx Cup. Needless to say I was slightly confused. so after some digging I saw that it had been determined that the U-1, U-96, and U-88 had all jumped the gun, moving the U-7 into first, the U-5 second, the U-100 third, and the U-57 fourth. This was no controversial and probably could have been handled better. The broadcast was depending on the radios declaring it a "clean start," so hopefully in the future such a start won't be declared a clean start when it is clearly still under review (the U-1 was never declared the official winner and the awards ceremony was delayed as the officials took time to review the start). In the video on the H1 site it clearly shows all three boats going over the line, although hopefully in the future such a determination can be made quicker. With that said, however, the right thing was done and H1 deserves credit for doing the right thing and taking the time to make the right call instead of taking the easy way out.
Now for a brief rant. As can be expected in any questionable call there was much stirring online among hydroplane fans. Although some discussion and debate is to be expected, I have read and seen some downright vile comments from many people on multiple websites complaining about the feed, how the Final was handled, and even going as far as saying that the Doha race should not happen anymore. While some of these opinions are fringe and downright silly, I have seen some reasonable people and even some publishers of some of the web's most popular websites dedicated to hydroplane racing say some rather off the wall things about what happened this weekend and even about H1 as a whole. Listen, I don't pretend that H1 is perfect because it's not, there are a number of things that I disagree with within the sport. With that said I keep it all in perspective. In seven years time the ABRA/H1 has taken a sport that was on the brink of demise and put it in a place where it is probably healthier now than it has been at any point over the last three decades. When the organization came into being there were questions as to if the sport would even be around for 2005 so having a race in the Middle East would be considered a pie in the sky dream. Sure there have been a number of growing pains along the way, but the sport has indeed come a long way. So while many fans and sites will relish in every perceived flaw or shortcoming of H1 I will not take part in it. This blog isn't a place to be nothing but critical of what's going on in the sport or make the sport look bad or to take part in some kind of journalism oneupsmanship or even as a primary news source. I maintain this blog for a very simple reason: I love hydroplane racing and I love the rich, colorful, and sometimes crazy history of hydroplane racing. I don't doubt that others offer their commentary online for much the same reasons, and I only hope in time that cooler heads will prevail. Because in the end the 2011 Oryx Cup will not be remembered for the issues with the feed and the time it took to review the Final will largely be an afterthought. In the end the 2011 Oryx Cup should be remembered for another great show put on by H1 and the QMSF. In the future, the race could easily be remembered as the first of many race victories for Scott Liddycoat.
With this historical perspective in mind, I should mention that while the 2011 season has come to a conclusion this will still be an active blog. Within the next week or so I should have a longer review of the whole 2011 season. Also, I have a number of longer historical pieces planned for the Winter months so hopefully there will be something to read on here every couple weeks or so. And of course if any major news breaks in the offseason (and it always does) I'll be on here to offer my own commentary. I thank everyone who reads the blog regularly and have offered so much positive feedback for this blog. Hydroplane racing truly is a fantastic sport with the foundation of an amazing history. I only ask that as hydroplane fans we keep that in perspective.