Miss Geico Superboat Unlimited racing team speeds to opening win at Key West World Championships

The reinvigorated Miss Geico Superboat Unlimited racing team topped a fleet of 44 to take Wednesday’s opener of the Key West World Championships, averaging 92.04 miles per hour over an extremely rough 29-mile course.

Driver Marc Granet of Boca Raton and throttleman Scott Begovich of Jupiter credited their shore crew with setting up their 44-foot Victory with twin turbocharged 1,650-horsepower engines perfectly for the punishing waves outside Key West Harbor.

“Even with 30-mile-per-hour winds and six-foot seas, it was still controllable,” Granet said. “Some of the hits were so violent, you would see stars when you hit.”

Miss Geico, which won the 2011 world championship in the Turbine class, switched to Superboat Unlimited last year after its turbine boat burned and sank at a race in Sarasota. Underpowered and suffering from mechanical problems, it failed to finish the worlds.

Now, the team believes it can go all the way — even beating turbine boats — to claim the title of fastest on the water.

“From our perspective, turbine or turbocharged, our object is the top gun award,” Granet said. “The turbines out here are fair game for us. We’re coming after them. To win first overall, you can’t break and you need a combined overall top speed. It’s very difficult to do, and that’s why Key West is such a challenging event to race.”

Miss Geico beat runner-up Spirit of Qatar, a slightly smaller 41-foot Victory with twin 1,350 horsepower engines, by 45 seconds. But the Qatar entry’s driver, Nasser Al Attiyah, was all smiles in the pits after the race.

That’s because Wednesday was the 41-year-old Rally Car champion and skeet-shooting Olympic bronze medalist’s second time in the cockpit of a Superboat Unlimited. The first time was during testing Tuesday.

“Never in my life was I driving a boat,” Al Attiyah said.

“I come here from motorsports. [Wednesday] is a special day for me. Really, I feel good and enjoying my day with a second position.”

He credited his veteran throttleman Matteo Nicolini of Italy with showing him the ropes.

Qatar has a strong presence at the race with entries in two other classes besides Superboat Unlimited. However, the Turbine and Superboat race teams suffered mechanical problems and failed to finish their races.

Wednesday’s blustery weather caused Stock-class entry Steve Quick Jewelers to stuff its bow into a wave early in the first race.

However, the 30-footer emerged from the potentially deadly crash, and driver Steve Quick of Chicago and throttleman Lee Austin of Fort Lauderdale were not injured.

Other class leaders Wednesday: Superboat Extreme-Outerlimits; Superboat-Stihl; Superboat Vee-Snowy Mountain Brewery; Superboat Stock-Talbot Excavating; Manufacturer Production 3-Black Pearl; Manufacturer Production 4-Anger Management.

Racing continues Friday, with the final competition Sunday.