by Kelly Smith
The NZ Offshore Powerboat Championship is set to take place at Taupo this weekend where roaring engines, screaming fans, and hugh clouds of spray will once again dominate the waterfront. New Zealand Offshore Powerboats will come to town for their annual visit to kick off their racing season.
2012 Round 1 - NZ Offshore Powerboat Championship
This year will be as big and bright as ever with a display of these powerful and colourful boats at Northcroft Reserve all day on Saturday and on Sunday morning before the crews take to the water in what promises to be an exciting and action packed event at 1.00 pm on Sunday afternoon.
Every year sees changes to boats and crew as new sponsors come on board and boats change hands. This year is no different and the first time the teams get together after a winter of tinkering in their boatsheds is always a surprise with new paintjobs to look at and stories to be shared about improvements made and new speeds achieved in practice.
Plenty of adrenaline will be pumping as the boats line up to see if the long hours and work they have done will pay off with a successful completion of the race and, fingers crossed, a win in their class. Early points in this series mean a lot to the teams as they set the standard that others have to try and meet, so Sunday's races will be hard fought and you can expect plenty of close racing as the boats try to overtake each other and dominate the race course.
An expanded Sports 60 Restricted Class takes to the water this weekend with seven boats competing against each other. What makes this class particularly interesting is that most of the drivers know each other very well and have had several seasons competing in the now defunct Honda Class. These boats are restricted in the horsepower they can carry, and most of the boats are Sonic Hulls carrying 200 Hp engines.
Last year only two drivers competed in this class so no doubt Jono and Ashley Hanley of 'Energizer' and Mikey Knight and Nigel Smethurst in 'Auckland District Collections' will welcome the extra company, having already had a season or more to get used to the boat with the larger engine on the back.
Joining them this year are Mikey Smith and Adam Smale in 'Konica Minolta', Colin and Corey Dunn in 'CRD Automotive', James Taylor and Phill Knowles in 'Total', Tim Fellows and Kevin Ireland in 'Yeah-Naa', and Graham Pike and Brett Archer in 'Thin Ice'. If nothing else this class will be spectacular to watch as they leap around the course, spending as much time up in the air as in the water and creating great walls of spray.
In the Sports 60 class Bob Smith, the 2011 Superboat Lite Champion will be racing with his son Alexander in 'Triple Trouble'. It will be interesting to see how Bob adjusts to racing in a smaller open cockpit raceboat. He will definitely be closer to the action than he was in the, by comparison, dry and quiet 'NZ Blokes'.
Back this year with their Batboat 'Back2Bay6' are Glen and Chris Powell. These boats are fantastic to watch as their sleek steamlined shape sees them racing out of the water, seemingly balanced on their tail when the speeds are high and the water is flat enough. We are waiting to see if Mark Diggelman and Dave Vazey will make an appearance at Taupo racing in the winning black Batboat that Mike Gerbic and Dave Vazey drove to victory last season.
In the Superboat Class Warren Lewis will be keen to keep his championship title, teaming up with Andrew 'Flea' Koolen this year in his award winning 'Fairview'. Warren's brother Scott and team mate Murray Tuffin will no doubt be going all out this year with 'Schick Hydro' prepped and ready for the new season with improved drives, and a good dose of determination for the drivers.
The 2009 winning combination of Tony Coleman and Chris Hanley are back after a two season break to compete in their Superboat, now sponsored by 'Fujitsu, Better Heat' and joining them for at least four of the races will be Sam Fillmore and Cary Gleeson in their 2010 winning Superboat 'Doosan'
The Superboat Lites also have some changes this year with last years winning boat sold to Mike Gerbic who will race with Allan Branch in the 'Espresso Engineers'. Keen to take advantage of the new team will be Tony Carson and Brooke Faulkner who may benefit from their past experience and familiarity with their own boat 'Red Steel'.
Also eying the top spot will be Gordon Robinson in 'Alimax'. He will be joined this season by his race partner Andrew Macbeth for some of the races later in the season, but will race with the experienced Craig Archer for the first race or two. Another new team is welcomed this year, Peter Jonas and Steve Bone in their boat 'Speedy 1'. With four Superboat Lites racing closely the action promises to be outstanding.
Racing on the lake starts at 1.00pm on Sunday, and the event usually takes an hour to be completed. Two races are run at the same time with the Superboats and Superboat Lites completing a 100 mile race and the other classes completing a 60 mile race.
The NZOPA thank and acknowledge the support of their key sponsor for this event; Milano Italian Restaurant. They also acknowledge their supporting sponsors; The Taupo District Council, Pitch Bar, Helisika, Dean Collins, M21, Senjo, Penny Homes, SsangYong NZ, Cooper Liddington, TSR Motors, JR Wade, Steiner Moses Engineering, Central Trim, Harcourts Taupo, Terrys Tyres, Elite Auto Spray, Wholesale Vehicles, Concrete & Kerbs, Skelton Marine, Farmlands, Morrell Motors, DPA, Ingham Motor Group, Wings & Wheels, Acceleration on Water, Marineworkz, and Marine Paramedical Services.
Boats will be on display on the reserve in front of Sun Court Motel from Friday afternoon.
Superboats and Superboat Lites will launch in the marina, while the smaller boats will use the public boat ramp.
Racing starts at 1.00pm Best viewing from the Northcroft Reserve and Lake Terrace foreshore
After the Taupo event racing continues at Gisborne on the 4th February, Beachlands on the 18th February, Napier on the 17th March, Whitianga on the 31st March, Wellington on the 14th April and the final race of the season in Auckland on the 28th April. A replacement date for the cancelled Tauranga race may be added to the season.
Event details are posted on the NZOPA website