Spectators cluttered Lido Beach on Sunday, decorating the nearshore waters with their numerous rafts and swimsuits or, in the case of V.I.P viewers, sprinkling The Sandollar Rooftop Restaurant. They didn't just come to watch the 24th annual Suncoast Offshore Grand Prix powerboat races, bob around in the Gulf or toast in the sun. They also came to witness two boats - Bud Light and Miss Geico.
They're also known as the fastest powerboats in the world.
Capable of speeds up to 200 mph, these boats scattered rooster-tail shapes of water as they carved through the 6½-mile course, sometimes coming as close as about 150 feet from drifting onlookers. One miscalculation of speed or rudder position, and the powerboat could slide off into the crowd. Of course, in the case of Miss Geico driver Mark Granet, thousands of hours of experience with powerboats prevented that.
That experience also propelled Miss Geico, a 39-foot fluorescent yellow powerboat with twin 1,850-horsepower Turbine Marine Inc. engines (they are, in fact, helicopter engines), to a win over the 50-foot Bud Light boat to claim a simple, yet prestigious prize: The Fastest Powerboat in the World.
But the globe's fastest water vessel headed in the wrong direction to start the race. Granet's bearings were pointed toward the position of last year's buoys. However, the 11½-lap, 74-mile race has since moved slightly south. Upon take-off, Granet's headphone filled with static as a man in the helicopter spotter attempted to instruct him to head in the right direction.
In a powerboat that blazes about 250 feet per second, it only takes heading a few degrees off course to put yourself in a bad position. For Miss Geico, that meant a boat's length behind Bud Light.
To understand the rest of Miss Geico's race, consider what the experience from the cockpit might be. There are two passengers - the throttleman, Scott Begovich, and the driver, Granet. From the throttleman's seat, there are 12 gauges straight ahead, not to mention numerous switches and meters to the sides.
Visibility is low - there is a panel of 13-inch windows that run 180 degrees in the men's vision, but because of the window's sharp angle, visibility is reduced to a ridiculous level. 'And once you hit a wave,' Granet said, 'you only see white until you're at the other side.'
Each wave, Granet said, feels like a sledgehammer slapping the hull. The helicopter engines rage only four feet behind the men, and through the headset, the team's crew chief constantly shouts the engine's condition.
At least, on the other hand, Miss Geico is air conditioned.
A few second later it was all over, as Miss Geico powered around Bud Light into the lead and was never headed.
Miss Geico IS the Fastest Powerboat in the World.