Unless something bizarre happens, Sterling Performance engines will power the 2017 Super Boat International Superboat-Class World Champion next week in Key West, Fla. On numbers alone—defending 2016 class champ Performance Boat Center, WHM Motorsports, STIHL, Cleveland Construction, M-CON and Pro Floors Racing are all running twin 750-hp carbureted powerplants from the Milford, Mich., engine company—the odds in Sterling’s favor are overwhelming.
Loving dark horses as much as the next guy, I’d love to see Randy Sweers’ Salt Terminator/Autonation/FB Marine team running Frank McComas-built Superboat-class engines pull off a stunning upset. But even Sweers, a veteran offshore racer and true realist, admits that’s unlikely.
How did Sterling Performance Engines come to so thoroughly dominate the power market in the Superboat class? The answer is simple—and historical.
“We have been building what is essentially the same motor for years,” said Mike D’Anniballe, the owner and founder of the company. “We built it for the Super Cat class under APBA Offshore back in the early 2000s, when the compression ratio specification was 12:1 and the maxium engine operating speed was set at 8,000 rpm. Even though the limits have changed to a 9.5:1 compression ratio and maximum 7,000 rpm for the Superboat class in SBI, we’ve basically said we’re not going to change the way we build the engine. It wasn’t a difficult decision.
“Attention to detail is the difference,” he continued. “Look, the Superboat-class engine is something basically anyone could build. Of course, the better builders will do a better job. But they kept it carbureted to keep it simple and to keep down costs. For us, it’s an easy engine to build. We put all the same components into it as we did when the parameters were set higher. More than anything else, it lasts a long time.”
With the majority of Superboat-class teams running his power, D’Anniballe sees a steady (though far from game-changing business-wise) revenue stream from the offshore racing world. But he sees even more potential for a consumer version of the 510-cubic-inch platform.
“It would make a really nice pleasure boat engine if you converted it to fuel injection,” he said. “That would add another $6,000 to the price, but it would be a really easy conversion and you’d end up with a great power package.”
Of course, D’Anniballe isn’t holding his breath for consumer demand for fuel-injected, gentrified versions of his Superboat-class offshore racing engines. Higher output engines, most notably Mercury Racings QC4v series, currently enjoy the greatest level of popularity on the stern drive side of the performance boat market.
As for what’s going to happen in Key West, he’s already—and quite appropriately—exhaling.
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.