SBI Key West Worlds Preview

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Look for Miss GEICO to repeat as the SBI Unlimited class World Champion in Key West in November. All photo by Pete Boden/Shoot 2 Thrill Pix. (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Shoot-2-Thrill-Pix/130528070292399)

Look for Miss GEICO to repeat as the SBI Unlimited class World Champion in Key West in November. (Photo by Pete Boden/Shoot 2 Thrill Pix.)

A month after the Super Boat International National Champions are crowned in the organization’s various classes—and that happened two days ago in Clearwater, Fla.—an entire “mini season” called the SBI Key West Offshore World Championships begins. Three days of racing off the fabled Florida city produce the world-title holders, and it doesn’t matter who won what during the regular season.

Or does it? In terms of points carried over or anything like that, no. In the SBI Key West Worlds, everyone starts from scratch. World titles are determined by the results in races Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. But when it comes to handicapping and picking favorites in each class, yes, it makes sense to look at what happened during the season.

So here’s my take on how it will play out in five classes in this year’s brand-new mini season.

Superboat Unlimited

Though the SilverHook/Lucas Oil V-bottom took the National Championship in this class, its chances of beating the likes of Miss GEICO, CMS and Spirit of Qatar 613, which not long ago switched from Mercury Racing 1350 engines to a pair of 1650s, are remote. That’s no slight to SilverHook crew, which showed up at every SBI race this season, raced hard and earned the national title. But unless everyone other than SilverHook breaks, a V-bottom with twin 1,075-hp engines simply can’t hold its own against a slew of catamarans with twin 1,650-hp mills.

So which team will take the title? The CMS cockpit duo of Randy Scism and Bob Bull is always scary fast, but they haven’t logged much seat time together in Bull’s 48-foot Marine Technology, Inc., catamaran this year. According to throttleman John Tomlinson, Tor Staubo, the owner and driver of Gasse (another 48-foot MTI cat) plans to compete in Key West in November, but Tomlinson and Staubo have logged even less seat time than Scism and Bull. No matter who mans the cockpit of the Spirit of Qatar 613, the 41-foot Victory-built cat has yet to prove itself in the United States. And the fate of the much-awaited Envy team effort—a 50-foot Mystic cat—remains in flux according to the team’s Facebook page.

Much as I have friends in every Unlimited-class cockpit, I have to go with Scott Begovich and Marc Granet to repeat as back-to-back World Champions in Miss GEICO on this one.

Superboat

The 38-foot Stihl Skater and 40-foot Broadco MTI catamarans slugged it out all season long, but in the end Stihl took the National Championship in Clearwater. The cockpit duos of J.R. Noble and Mark Kowalski in Stihl and Chuck Broaddus and Grant Bruggemann in Broadco appear to be evenly matched in what has become as close to a “factory battle” as you’ll ever see in offshore racing.

Stihl comes into Key West as the Superboat-class team to beat. (Photo by Pete Boden/Shoot 2 Thrill Pix.)

Stihl comes into Key West as the Superboat-class team to beat. (Photo by Pete Boden/Shoot 2 Thrill Pix.)

There are two dark horses—Team AMSOIL and WHM Motorsports—that can’t be ignored coming into Key West. Lead by throttleman Bob Teague, the AMSOIL Skater 36-footer started mid-season and notched first- and second-place finishes. The veteran WHM Motorsports team of Billy Mauff and Jay Muller—last year’s world champs in the class—heads to Key West in a brand-new 40-foot Skater catamaran with equally brand-new 750-hp Sterling engines. Either of these teams could potentially upset the apple cart.

But that’s a long shot—the likely battle for world supremacy in the Superboat class comes down to Stihl and Broadco, and based on regular season performance I have to give the advantage to Stihl.

Stock Class

With the 2014 National Championship under its belt and a couple of dominant recent performances its credit, The Hulk/Redline Oil 32-foot Doug Wright cat manned by throttleman Dan Lawrence and driver/owner Rob Nunziato is my pick to take the world title. The team members appeared to get more and more dialed in setting up the boat and working together as the season has progressed, and they head into Key West with justifiable confidence.

With their confidence building, The Hulk/Redline Oil team will be tough to take down in Stock class.All photo by Pete Boden/Shoot 2 Thrill Pix. (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Shoot-2-Thrill-Pix/130528070292399)

With their confidence building, The Hulk/Redline Oil team will be tough to take down in Stock class. (All photo by Pete Boden/Shoot 2 Thrill Pix.)

That said, the experienced crew of driver/owner Chris Schoenbohm and throttleman Isaiah Blount in SOS Venezuela, a 32-foot Doug Wright with a recently widened tunnel (read the story) aren’t about to hand it to them. Nor is throttleman Ryan Beckley and whomever he teams up with in his 30-foot Skater, DoublEdge Motorsports. None of them will have to contend with Gary Ballough and rookie Taylor Chastelet who had a strong season in GB Racing, Ballough’s 32-foot Doug Wright, which he sold to a team in Abu Dhabi.

From where I sit, this is the toughest class in which to pick a world champion because all of the top three teams this season—Hulk, SOS and DoublEdge—have talented, experienced crews in their cockpits and logged a lot of time competing this season. But once again, even though I have friends in every cockpit, I have a hard time seeing The Hulk team not taking the world title this year.

Superboat Vee

Like the SilverHook/Lucas Oil team in the Superboat Unlimited class, Absolutely Not, a 30-foot Fountain V-bottom owned by Mark Gibbons, took the SBI National Championship by showing up at every event and racing hard—even after Gibbons sustained significant shoulder injuries early in the season. Steve Miklos, the owner and throttleman for Sun Print, has described Absolutely Not as “the new sheriff in town,” and says he sees the boat as stiff competition heading into the worlds.

For his part, Miklos comes into Key West with a new 30-foot Phantom raceboat that ran strong against Absolutely Not in Clearwater, but thanks to a mechanical failure did not finish the race. (Sun Print and Absolutely Not were the only Superboat Vee-class teams that showed up for the event.)

Less than pleased with parity restrictions placed on the Snowy Mountain Brewery V-bottom—a 29-foot Outerlimits that had dominated the class for two seasons—Michael “Doc” Janssen, the boat’s owner, sat out for much of the 2014 season. Based on my most recent conversations with him, chances are good he’ll show up in Key West with his 29-footer, but Snowy Mountain Brewery fans can expect a surprise or two from the team.

Absolutely Not displayed proven consistency in 2014, but was dominated by the “old” Sun Print boat in the first three races in the season. Absolutely Not rightly and smartly continued racing when the Sun Print team stopped for the next three races while finishing its new boat and claimed the title. Still, I believe that if Miklos can get his new ride dialed in between now and the time the first green flag flies in Key West he’ll take the world title in the class.

That’s it with the exception of the Production Classes, where I expect the 38-foot Fountain Black Pearl in P3 and the 30-foot Phantom Two Cruel in P4, to continue with their winning ways in Key West. Of course, I could be wrong about all of it. I suspect that, after they read this, every team I didn’t pick will want to prove it.

And they might just do it. After all, it’s a brand-new mini season.

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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.

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