Sheppard- ‘2008 was toughest year at this level’

The #99 Fountain Worldwide team
#99 Fountain Worldwide pilot James Sheppard has branded the 2008 Powerboat P1 season as the hardest he’s ever had competing at offshore racing’s top level. Sheppard and throttleman Craig Wilson secured their second Evolution-class crown this year, but faced increased competition from their rival outfits.

The #99 Fountain Worldwide team dominated the 2007 Evolution class title fight, despite starting the season one round in, and introduced a much more professional approach to competing in the championship.

This year – using the same Ilmor-powered Fountain hull – they’ve have had to adapt their strategy to cope with several mid-season technical problems and hugely increased competition from their rivals. A number of leading teams and boat and engine manufacturers have significantly stepped up their game to try and take on the #99 Fountain Worldwide outfit in 2008.

'This year has been the hardest year I’ve ever had competing at this level of powerboat racing,' Sheppard said in an exclusive interview with 'Last year, in the rough races, everyone was taking care of their boats and running at their own pace. This year, you had to go absolutely flat out from start to finish, otherwise you’d come no where.

'It’s very hard racing, but that’s as it should be. The machinery is built to a high level of professionalism, but to be on the pace in these rough conditions for a whole hour is absolute butchery. From a professionalism point of view, you do it to the best of your ability and try to do it correctly, because competitors will catch up. You set a new level, but everyone this year has caught up. Between Mercury, Ilmor and the Seatek diesel it has been a great, competitive year.'

Pennesi aims to stick with winning package.

The 60GFN Gibellato Evolution team scored crucial points in Vigo, Spain
The #60 GFN Gibellato Evolution team scored crucial points in Vigo, Spain#60 GFN Gibellato team boss and throttleman Marco Pennesi has said he’s not going to rush to change any elements of his Seatek-powered Metamarine boat after finishing second in the Evolution-class title chase this year. The Italian outfit narrowly pipped the #88 Kiton Outerlimits team after receiving 50 end-of-season reliability points.

The #60 GFN Gibellato boat is the top diesel entry in the series, and also one of the biggest, heaviest boats thanks to the power-to-weight regulations that mandate heavier base weight for higher-horsepower boats. Although the #60 GFN Gibellato boat has sometimes struggled for speed at the start of races, and on tight courses, towards the end of the race and in rough seas, it has been described as 'unbeatable' by more than one team boss thanks to its high speed.

'Second place is the prize for all the hard work we did all year long,' Pennesi said. 'As we’re aiming to develop pleasure boats [from racing experience], diesel is the future for us. The performance in certain conditions is also very much better than petrol. But the most important thing for us is its reliability.

'I’m very satisfied with the performance level of the boat this year. We had good power control. It’s too early to say if we’ll make a new boat. If we decide to, it should still be very much like this one. We have to find at least 10 or 15 per cent extra potential from this hull.'

Cangiano: 'This was a learning year for us'.

#88 Kiton Outerlimits won Saturday's Evolution-class Sprint race in Portugal#88 Kiton Outerlimits team boss and throttleman Giancarlo Cangiano has said he’s not disappointed to have lost out in the battle for second place in the Evolution class championship in 2008, and says that this his been an important learning year with the new Mercury-powered Outerlimits hull that could yield the title in 2009.
#88 Kiton Outer limits won Saturdays Evolution-class Sprint race in Portugal

Cangiano started the season keen to try and recapture his 2006 Evolution title. A move to an all-new 43-foot Outerlimits SV43 hull, allied to Mercury engines, made him one of the title favourites going into the season-opener in San Benedetto del Tronto in Italy. A double no-score with technical problems in that event put a dent in his title campaign, though, that a consistent string of podium and points finishes and wins in the rough waters of Malta and Portugal couldn’t overcome.

The #88 Kiton Outerlimits team ended the year level on points with the #60 GFN Gibellato boat, but ultimately lost out to second place despite having more wins as the #60 GFN Gibellato team picked up 50 bonus reliability points as the Sunday Endurance race in Portimao, Portugal, was cancelled due to bad weather.

'I’m not disappointed, because – with the loss of Bahrain, and the cancellation of the Endurance race in Portugal – we actually did three races less than expected,' Cangiano said. 'Our boat was the most innovative this season, but our project is two years long. The results from this year are clear, though – in rough seas, we are on top.

'If we didn’t have some of our problems this year, we actually could have won the championship again. It’s important that, in all my career, I never fall below third place at the end of the season.'

Ganjavian: 'Factory backing is key'.

The 07 Microlink PC team scored third place in the SuperSport Sprint in Portugal
The #07 Microlink PC team scored third place in the SuperSport Sprint in Portugal#07 Microlink PC team boss and throttleman Vee Ganjavian has said manufacturer engine support was the missing link that could have helped his team challenge for the SuperSport title this year. The British outfit finished second in the standings, but reckon they could have scored more wins with more assistance on the engine front.

Ganjavian and pilot Gareth Williams were the only crew other than the dominant title-winning #44 Conam Yachts boat of Angelo Tedeschi and Aaron Ciantar to win a race in the SuperSport class this year. But their Yanmar diesel-powered Hustler suffered two key engine failures which denied them a chance to challenge for more wins.

'We’re very pleased and very proud to have taken second in the SuperSport class this year,' Vee said. 'The team has worked incredibly well together, and we’ve really enjoyed racing this season – Powerboat P1 is a much more professional championship now. I’ve also really enjoyed working with Gareth. We get on fantastically well, and I couldn’t have anyone better sat next to me.

'There are a few offers on the table for boats for 2009. I’d like to stick with Hustler if I can – they’ve been very good to us, and it goes to show that when you have the support of a manufacturer behind you, it really helps with reliability. Everything in our team is factory-supported, apart from the engines. Yanmar dealt with us as a customer.

'#44 Conam Yachts did a fantastic job – all credit to them, they deserve their title. But if we’d had an engine manufacturer behind us, we could have been better placed to challenge them. Having technical support from the factory is invaluable, especially for reliability. And success in Powerboat P1 is a great marketing platform manufacturers. We had so much interest in Hustler in the US as a result of us racing in this series.'

Ganjavian has also hinted he’d like to stick with diesel power if he can. 'Three of the boats on the table are all petrol powered, which – in some ways – is a bit of a shame,' he said. 'I’m a great believer in diesel. Horsepower sells boats, but torque makes them go. We were probably 80hp down on the competition this year, but we were still one of the top, front-running boats.'