Wednesday’s opener of the 2012 Key West Super Boat World Championship was rough and quick — but ultimately safe.
Unlike the opening day of last year’s Worlds, none of the fleet of 39 boats crashed on the race course, although several suffered mechanical breakdowns plowing through three-foot waves fed by brisk, 15-20-knot northwest winds. One year ago, two Missouri racers drowned in the series opener when their catamaran, Big Thunder Marine, flipped upside down in Key West Harbor. Two days later, a southwest Florida racer drowned when his boat rolled over in a turn and sank.
“We’re happy to be in one piece and for everybody to be in one piece after last year,” said Miami’s John Tomlinson, throttleman on Gasse — Wednesday’s fastest boat.
Tomlinson and owner-driver Tor Staubo of Norway powered their Superboat Unlimited-class entry to an average speed of 101.30 mph over the bumpy, 41.7-mile course. The 48-foot MTI with twin 1,350-horsepower engines completed the race in 24:44. Runner-up Spirit of Qatar finished less than a minute back, followed by Miss Geico in third, which challenged Gasse early in the race, but later fell back.
“I thought we’d be able to run faster today,” Tomlinson said. It was rougher than I thought it was going to be. I know it’s blowing and it should be rough, but it was messier and sloppier than I thought it would be, so we weren’t seeing near the speeds I thought we would see.”
Reaching a controlled speed and staying there turned out to be just the ticket for Lucas Oil/MAVTV, which led the 10-boat Superboat Extreme class. The new class, which combines three former classes with both catamarans and vee hulls, limits speeds to 117 mph.
Lucas, a custom-built 44-foot SilverHook with twin 950-horsepower engines, averaged 92.72 mph over a 29.3-mile course to edge runner-up Twisted Metal Motorsports by 14 seconds. Lucas’ sister boat, a 40-foot Skater, broke down at the start and had to drop out.
Nigel Hook of San Diego, throttleman on the MAVTV entry, said he and driver Michael Silfverberg of Sweden were “running a little bit conservative” to save their equipment for the next two days of racing.
Silfverberg said he likes the 117-mph class speed limit.
“It kind of equalizes everybody,” Silfverberg said. “It’s part of the excitement and the challenge of planning — how quickly you can get to 117 and maintain that speed.”
Other class leaders in Wednesday’s competition: Aqua Mania — Turbine; Snowy Mountain Brewery — Superboat Vee Limited; Stihl- Superboat; Blacksand — Superboat Stock; Team Kilt — Manufacturer Production 3; and Maximum Marine — Manufacturer Production 4.
Racing continues Friday and Sunday, with weather predicted to get rougher. World championship titles will be awarded in each class Sunday.