Sunday, July 8, 2012

Madison Recap: A Hot Start to the Season and a Continuation of a Heated Rivalry

Another Madison Regatta is in the books and although the result was somewhat predictable, the journey there was anything but.  The majority of the heat racing this weekend was tight and exciting for the most part and the weekend was, start to finish, full of great action.  The fans who braved record setting temperatures this weekend saw a great start to the season and nearly every boat in the pits ran the race without incident.  Despite the great showing by the rest of the field, one thing that is obvious is that the class of the field are still the Spirit of Qatar and the Oh Boy! Oberto-Miss Madison teams.  The sport truly has one of the most competitive fields top to bottom that it has ever had.  The only catch is that the rest of the field finds itself having to compete against two of the greatest drivers in the sport's history behind the wheel of two of the best boats in the sport's history.  Of course, the rivalry between these two teams is intense, but fortunately it is also cordial.  The respect that Steve David and Dave Villwock (and by extension the Miss Madison and Ellstrom racing camps) is relevant to anyone close to the sport, but that doesn't mean they don't want to beat each other and won't engage in some great rounds of oneupsmanship.  The rivalry between the Qatar-Ellstrom and the Oberto-Madison camps has become one of the best, if not the best, rivalries in the history of Unlimited Hydroplane racing.

I have a lot to do between now and when my bus leaves for Philadelphia tomorrow so I'll keep this brief.  There were a few heats in particular I wanted to concentrate on.  Heat 2C saw the Oh Boy! Oberto and Spirit of Qatar drawn into the same heat and was another great matchup between the two giants.  Steve David had the inside used the track to his advantage, holding a slight lead for a lap and a half.  On the second turn of lap two, Steve David veered out to make Villwock run a longer track, at which point Villwock saw the chase as futile and backed off to take second place points.  The first head to head matchup of the year went to Steve David.

Heat 3C was another barn burner.  It was almost like a last chance heat in that it was a last heat before the running of the Final Heat, and the U-11 and U-88 were running for a spot on the front row of the final.  The two boats did not disappoint.  For two laps the boats ran practically deck to deck before Scott Liddycoat was able to pull out to a comfortable lead and take the win.

The front row for the Final was the U-6, U-1, U-17, and U-88 with the U-11 as a trailer.  The U-6 followed the U-1 for a while, then cut the course on to the frontstretch and trolled up to the score up buoy.  The U-1 took lane two.  The U-88 tried to sneak into an inside lane, but wasn't able to find a lane and was forced to the outside.  At the start the U-1 had about a two boat length lead with the rest of the field closely bunched together.  Coming out of the first turn, the U-1 had a slight lead and crowded the U-6 in a perfectly legal manner that forced the U-6 to briefly come off the throttle, at which point Villwock was off to the races with his ninth Indiana Governor's Cup.  For a couple laps it looked like there would be a nice race for third place between the U-88 and U-17, but the U-17 went dead in the water in the first turn of the third lap, although he was able to get back running.  The final order of finish was the U-1, U-6, U-88, U-17, and U-11.

A couple random thoughts:

Another great day for the U-17.  In my preview I said that they might be the most prepared boat in the pits and they did not disappoint with a first and two seconds in the preliminary heats.  Although some bad luck in the Final kept them off the podium, a fourth place finish in both the Final and in points is nothing to be ashamed of.

The U-88 also had a day to be proud of, especially considering it was their first race back after a long hiatus.  Not only is Scott Liddycoat quickly establishing himself as one of the most talented drivers in H1, but also as one of the best interviews in the sport.  His two heat victory acceptance speeches were great, and paid a great tribute to USA Racing Partners.

The U-37 had a day that was reminiscent of the days that early turbine boats would have.  The boat was rarely running, but when it was it truly was a sight to see.  Obviously, the new boat is not fully dialed in yet, but when it is they should be right there with the top contenders in the sport.

I guess it goes without saying that the heat was certainly an issue.  A number of people, including Billy Schumacher, had to be taken to the hospital for heat-related illnesses.  A few boats could be seen with smoking engines when they returned to the pits.  One thing I will say though is that at least from my perspective it didn't look like the crowd was down at all due to the heat, so hopefully the expected financial hit the Madison Regatta committee thought they would be taking this year will be negated.

The new course layout worked magnificently.  I still hope to see the course extended to race under the bridge once construction is completed on the new bridge, but it would also be nice to see the first turn kept where it is.  The first turn, although more narrow than in previous years, was without the notorious rollers and rough water that is usually found in that turn.  So hopefully in the future the course will be 2 1/2 miles and shifted slightly to the east, or have the second turn back where it was before and extended to 2 5/6 miles.

In the end, it was another great week for the sport and for the city of Madison, Indiana.  The regatta is always the biggest weekend in the city and this year is no different.  It's always great to see the numerous people I see only once a year since I don't live in Madison full time now.  As for the rest of the season, Madison certainly set the table for what could be an exciting season.  A scant twenty points separate the First and Second place boats, and the rest of the field turned in strong showings.  Of the twelve boats in the pits, all scored points, eleven finished at least one heat, and nine finished all three heats.  Along with one of the most competitive fleets, this might be one of the most reliable fleets that the sport has ever seen.  On to Detroit.

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