Thursday, August 2, 2012

Seattle Preview: Will Home Waters be defended?

The H1 Unlimited Tour turns its attention to Seattle this weekend.  The race is almost always one of the biggest and most attended races of the year, and it serves as a homecoming for the majority of Unlimited Hydroplanes teams in the sport's post-World War II era.  Since the Slo-Mo-Shun III won the Gold Cup on home waters in 1951, nearly every Unlimited race in Seattle has been won by a "hometown" boat.  This, of course, has changed in recent years. For the last two Seattle races, and three of the last five, the Oh Boy! Oberto-Miss Madison has been able to win the race going away and capture a road win for its fans in Southern Indiana (although to be fair the team has a Seattle sponsor and the boat itself was largely built in Seattle).  This of course does not mean the race will be a cakewalk and a very fast fleet of thirteen boats, eleven of which are based in Washington, are looking to capture one of the sport's most coveted prizes.

The U-1 Spirit of Qatar 96 comes into Seattle with a points lead that was much more narrow than it was the previous week and a sudden sense a vulnerability.  It's hard to imagine that just last week there was talk of the Qatar boat sweeping the season series, but after a blown engine, a blown gearbox, and a disappointing third place finish in both its final preliminary heat and in the Final Heat the seemingly unbeatable team suddenly looks very beatable.  Of course this is a very prideful hardworking team and in previous years when the Qatar team has looked beatable they have responded with a dominating performance in the next race (see: 2008 and 2009 Seattle and 2010 and 2011 San Diego).  Fans should expect nothing less than for this team to come all out for a win this weekend, especially considering that the team has lost the Final in Seattle two years in a row in head to head fashion.

Despite what has largely been an uneven season up to this point, the U-6 Oh Boy! Oberto-Miss Madison finds itself a scant 190 points behind the leader thanks to consistent performances and numerous heat wins.   In fact, the team finds itself in a place where they would be in the lead in the High Points if it weren't for a couple of untimely penalties in Detroit and Tri-Cities.  The season's midpoint no doubt presents a turning point for the Oberto-Madison team.  If they can put the mistakes behind them and perform well on a course it has been the class of the field the last few years, then the team could be en route to a fourth High Point title.  Otherwise it might just have to be written off as "just one of those years."

Coming off a win, the U-5 Graham Trucking has to be feeling good about its chances coming into Seattle.  Jimmy Shane continues to get more comfortable behind the wheel of his very fast ride, and the results are showing with multiple heat wins in both Detroit and Tri-Cities.  Of course, Seattle is a very different course from Detroit and Tri-Cities and the team struggled in the one other short track race this year in Madison.  If the team can turn in another strong performance this weekend, getting back into the High Point race is not out of the question.

The U-37 Miss Beacon Plumbing comes into Seattle showing marked signs of improvement on a weekend that saw the team come out on the short end of the closest finish in a Final Heat in Unlimited Hydroplane history.  In theory, the team should do even better in Seattle with the boat's ability to hold tight in the corners but lack of top end speed.  The boat finished fourth in its Seattle debut last season, and as the team continues to dial in their still new hull an improvement should be expected.

The U-88 Degree Men had a nice rebound weekend in Tri-Cities after their blowover in Detroit.  Scott Liddycoat returns to Seattle where he drove his former ride to an impressive second place that saw him cross Steve David's wake and throw a hip check on Villwock in order to preserve that second place.  Much like the rest of this year's schedule, Seattle is much of an unknown for the team after their long hiatus, but no doubt Liddycoat and the team will be looking to come out for a podium finish and perhaps even a win in the Final.

Arguably the most consistent performer thus far, the U-9 Sun Tan Presents Sound Propeller Systems has found its way to the Final Heat in both Detroit and Tri-Cities.  The Jones Racing entry has been a regular in Seattle even in years when it ran a reduced schedule and has turned in some solid performances despite never winning in Seattle.  While a win in Seattle might be out of the question this weekend, it wouldn't be a surprise to see Jon Zimmerman drive the U-9 to the front row of the Final once again.

The U-17 Miss Red Dot had quite the adventurous day in Tri-Cities that saw Kip Brown break a leg bone in qualifying and force Nate Brown to fill in as driver once again.  Nate will be driving in Seattle, once again acting as de facto owner, driver, and crew chief of the U-17.  The team got a little media attention this week with news that the boat might be up for sale.  While the boat might be changing hands in the future, the focus on this weekend will be getting the U-17 into the Final of its hometown race for the first time.

Unlimited Racing Group has picked up local sponsorship for the weekend wand will be racing as U-11 Acura of Bellevue presents Miss Peters & May in Seattle.  The team had a bit of an uneven day  in Tri-Cities when they finished third, fifth, and sixth in the preliminary heats.  Also, the team would certainly like to do better than their 2011 performance in Seattle where the team failed to finish a heat and actually lost points thanks to penalties.  Obviously, J.W. Myers and the team would like a rebound in Seattle, and this team will come out shooting for a spot in the Final Heat

The U-100 Fox Hill Plumbing had another solid day in Tri-Cities  where the team qualified for the Final but didn't start, although it will probably best remembered for the very hot start the boat had in the third section of heats.  If you haven't seen the video already, go on to the H1 Unlimited site and see the video that looks like something out of a Michael Bay movie.  This has been an emotional season for the Leland Unlimited team, and this race will no doubt be full of emotions, as Fred Leland's entry was a longtime fan favorite in Seattle and was also the site of the team's first win in 1994.  No doubt Greg Hopp will be looking to get into the Final,but this weekend will probably be fondly remembered by the team regardless of the result.

The Evans Brothers racing has secured a number of local sponsors for Seattle and will race as the U-57 Miss DiJulio although attention will always be on Mark Evans thanks to his personality, on the course the team has largely been an also ran and has yet to make it to a Final.  Of course, Evans has turned in some solid performances in Seattle before highlighted by the famous "flip and win" of 1997.  While another victory might be out of the question this weekend, Mark Evans having the U-57 on the front row of the Final isn't.

The U-21 Go Fast Turn Left entry rolls into Seattle after a solid debut at Tri-Cities.  With Seattle being the probable season finale and the team planning on building a new boat for 2013, it could be possible to see the team go all out this weekend.  Brian Perkins has shown a knack for putting a boat in the right place in the right time during his Unlimited career, so with some luck the team could be in the Final and perhaps even finish on the podium.

The second Leland entry, the U-99 Fox Hill Plumbing Too is looking to build off its performance in Tri-Cities.  Driver Ryan Mallow, still relatively new to the Unlimiteds, will be looking for more experience as he continues to get his feet wet in the Unlimited Class.  The team will once again use the "dustbuster" hydro, so in Fred's hometown the team will be paying a sort of silent tribute to Fred Leland's innovative nature and desire to try out new ideas.

Rounding out the field is the U-18 Bucket List Racing.  Kelly Stocklin came into Tri-Cities with very few expectations, but turned heads with a qualifying speed of over 130 mph.  Despite nearly getting lapped in its one heat of competition, it was no doubt a solid performance for this team using the still largely untested T-53 in hydroplane competition.  For Seattle, the team will probably look to build off its performance and get some more testing laps in.

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