by Rodrick Cox
The 2013 Super Boat International season kicked off with the ninth Annual Smokin’ The Sound race event in Biloxi, Mississippi. Powerboats covering six different classes reached speeds in excess of 140 mph as they circled a 7-mile course in Biloxi Bay. Fans packed beaches, parking garages and casino balconies all along Beach Blvd. as they watched the powerboats battle on one of the narrowest courses on the SBI circuit.
Even the threat of an oncoming thunderstorm couldn’t dampen spirits as the boats plowed through two separate races Sunday. Team Stihl, led by driver J.R. Noble and throttleman Grant Bruggemann, put on the show of the day, leading both races in flag-to-flag fashion, dominating the Superboat class in a 38-foot Skater.
With the course being so narrow, a huge key was being the first boat to navigate the race’s initial lefthand turn. That task complete, it was simply a matter of hanging on and taking care of your equipment.
'What an awesome race! It started off there with three of us together and everybody got a good start. It was a great race racing to that first turn and it was tight,' Noble said. 'We eventually got a little ahead and this course is really hard to pass on unless you’re really that much faster than everybody else. The boat ran well, it was a fast course and we picked the right set-up.'
While Team Stihl was running away with the Superboat trophy, there was a much tighter race going on in the S-1 class. Too tight, in fact, for one of the boats. Twisted Offshore appeared to have the S-1 title locked up in its 32-foot Doug Wright. The only problem was the team was assessed a post-race penalty for missing a buoy, handing ATC, with driver Harry Clack and throttleman Gary Ballough the win instead.
Superboat Class - 2014 Thunder On The Beach SBI Grand Prix
'We don’t want to win it the way we are winning it. But, if another boat can’t complete the course correctly, the rules are here for all of us,' Ballough said. 'We don’t wish it on anybody. If we got lucky today, then we got lucky today. Somebody else will be lucky at an another time.'
It was almost a case of bad luck for ATC, as Ballough said a quick green flag in the first race caught him off guard and, basically, ended their race before it began.
'I snoozed and I losed,' Ballough said. 'Then, a mechanical bolt came out of the shifter and took us out of gear no less than seven times during the race. But we pushed past that because we know to finish first, first you have to finish and we persevered.'
Team Phantom driver Mark Niemann made his first trip to Biloxi one to remember as he piloted his 30-foot Phantom to the win in the Superboat Vee class. Niemann said he wished there was a little more competition in the season opener, but was happy with the chance to knock some of the winter rust off.
'It was a long, hard winter. We made a lot of improvements to the boat and, obviously, they paid off,' Niemann said.
'I’ve never been to Biloxi before, but I love the town. The race course is kind of scary at first. It gets really narrow between the Hard Rock Café and the sandbar but, once you get used to it, it’s a really awesome race course. I really like to be here. I’ll be back next year.'
Super Boat International website