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Superboats

Superboats

Part-Tinnie, Part Jet Plane, Pure Terror

When I was asked if I wanted to head to Cabarita’s Round Mountain Raceway for a ride in a jet sprint boat at the 2017 V8 Superboat finals, I thought it sounded like a good laugh. It was not until I started hearing the safety briefing on the day that the real fear set in.

It turns out that by strapping 1400hp jet engines to 13-foot tinnies, these boats can accelerate ludicrously fast, going from 0 to 130kmph in just two seconds! Surprisingly, their cornering is even more impressive, as they pull 3-4gs, just like fighter jets.

My nerves were still twitching as I watched these super boats tear around the tiny islands of the course, lashing us with spray from 50 metres away. But it was when I saw one of the boats flip over that I started to have serious second thoughts about going through with this.

Luckily, before I had much of a chance to think about it, I was being strapped into a racing harness. The crew gave me last-minute tips. “If the boat flips upside down, whatever you do, don’t release your seatbelt, because you’ll fall straight out and break your neck. And if you’re upside down and underwater, check if the driver is conscious before you release your belt and try to swim out.” With that cheery thought, we headed to the water. At this point, it is fair to say I was in a state of panic.

Moments later, the starting horn sounded and the acceleration was slamming me back against my seat. As we whipped around corners at a pace I could barely comprehend, my respect for my driver, Ben Hathaway, grew with each turn he expertly took. Controlling the boat around a corner at this speed would still be impressive if you had hundreds of metres to prepare, but somehow, Ben was doing it with barely a second between the end of one corner and the start of the next. I had foolishly thought Ben would take it easy on me, but he did our circuit in 51 seconds, a single second off the weekend’s fastest time!

Thankfully, I was in good hands with Ben. Not only did we both walk away intact, but he and his boat, Weapon, went on to win the Group A championship. The competition was fierce on the weekend, with Ben edging a mere four-hundredths of a second ahead of his rival to take the win.

Jet sprint racing is easiest to think of as a much faster version of rally driving. At each event, drivers have to memorise the course essentially from scratch, because the direction of the race and the order that they tackle the corners in are given to them on a map with a series of checkpoints. The drivers also have a navigator who can direct them. However, the insane speed means that in reality the drivers have to do it all themselves.

One of the drivers nipping at Ben’s heels at the finals was Paul Kelly, a marine electrician from Brisbane. After a brutal crash that put an end to Paul’s jet ski racing career, his dad shouted him a joyride in a jet boat. He said they could not wipe the smile off his face for weeks. Although Paul has only been in the sport for a few years, he managed to nab the Rookie of the Year award during his very first season. For 2017, he came third at the finals, and fifth overall in the Group A championship.

A lot of the attention at the October finals was focused on the nail-biting Group A finals. However, the Unlimited Superboat class was a real crowd-pleaser too. The lack of restrictions means there are many twin turbos and supercharged motors packing up to 1400hp into these tiny boats. Five-time national champion, Phonsy Mullan, won the title. He was so formidable he had already won the championship on points before he even got to the finals in Cabarita.

Although the competition on the racetrack was brutal, there is a surprisingly friendly and helpful camaraderie among the drivers. Earlier in this season, when Ben’s engine blew up, his fellow competitors were kind enough to let him use their boats to compete in a handful of races while his boat was being repaired. Paul also mentioned how welcoming and friendly everyone was when he first started and did not know anyone in the sport.

If you have an appreciation for speed and skillful driving, try and head along to one of the jet sprint events. The Cabarita track is hosting the world championships in 2018, so it’s a great time to check out this growing sport. And hey, if you’ve got stronger nerves than me, you might want to get behind the wheel yourself. The smaller class jet boats start at a very affordable $15k.

Wide racetrack tweed valley boat gold coast

The Tweed Valley Jet Sprint Club hosts two Australian V8 Superboat rounds

 

 

By Narayan Pattison

 

More information at http://www.afjsa.com/

 

 

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