Back in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Sterling Performance Engines dominated the American Power Boat Association Open and Super Boat International Extreme offshore racing classes. Teams such as Zero Defect, Alcone Motorsports, Drambuie on Ice and any number of Anheuser-Busch/David Scott-backed teams were the dominant players of the day in the sport’s most powerful classes. Sterling’s naturally aspirated Open-class engine topped out in the 900-hp range, whereas its Extreme-class mill pumped out 1,550-plus hp.
Open class is gone, as is—for the most part—APBA’s involvement in offshore racing. Extreme class has morphed into Unlimited class, where the only team still running anything other Mercury Racing 1650 (and in one case 1550) power is American Ethanol/Cat Can Do, a still-slippery-fast, 17-year-old Skater catamaran is equipped with a pair of Sterling 1550s.
Mike D’Anniballe, the owner founder of the high-performance marine engine and automotive products durability testing company in Milford, Mich., has long said that his company “has always been known for and focused upper-end power” when it comes to marine engines. Yet now, 750-hp Sterling engines power all but three teams—HP Mafia, Sailor Jerry and Gone Again—in the Superboat class, SBI’s most competitive and popular category. By any measure, that’s mild stuff for D’Anniballe and his crew.
While pleased with his company’s Superboat-class power success, D’Anniballe was anything but surprised.
“I figured it would happen over the course of time in that everyone always believes there is a ‘better mousetrap,’” he said. “And there is. This class is so competitive and few engine builders really know how to marry the engine to the boat. I really do understand what it takes to make these boats go fast, and it’s not just horsepower. We call it ‘horsepower under the curve.’ We know where to put the horsepower under the curve to optimize it, and we can adjust it to suit the needs and racing styles of the individual teams.”
D’Anniballe readily admitted that his Superboat-class engines are more expensive than those of his competitors. But their higher price is returned in greater reliability and durability, he said.
“I like to use my favorite analogy: ‘We would all rather pay 50 cents three times than one dollar one time,’” he said, then chuckled. “Our stuff lasts. If you look at cost per lap based on number of laps run, our engines are less expensive than our competitors’ engines. In Superboat class, we are having no trouble getting three to five races out of a pair of engines (before top- or bottom-end maintenance).
“Yes, the price of a new Sterling Superboat-class engine is higher,” he added. “But they last longer, so ultimately when you add up all the laps they are able to run, we’re less expensive.”
Matt Trulio is an award-winning journalist who has covered the high-performance powerboat world since 1995. He wrote for Powerboat magazine for 17 years and was the magazine’s editor at large until it ceased publication in 2011. Trulio is the founder, editor-in-chief and publisher of speedonthewater.com, a daily news site that covers the high-performance powerboat realm. He’s also the former editor of Sportboat magazine.