After a rocky 2016 regular season that saw the Super Boat International circuit dwindle to five races with small fleets in all but a few top classes, domestic offshore powerboat racing redeemed itself in a big way during the SBI Offshore World Championships in Key West, Fla., in November. With races on Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday during the weeklong event in the nation’s southernmost city, the sport rewarded its fans with tight competition, particularly in the 10-team Superboat class where the Performance Boat Center/Jimmy John’s Freaky Fast and STIHL outfits put on a show.
With throttleman John Tomlinson and driver Myrick Coil sharing the cockpit of a new-for-the-season Skater Powerboats 388 catamaran with Sterling Performance engines, the Performance Boat Center team dominated much of Superboat-class regular season. They capped it off by taking a National Championship in Clearwater, Fla., and came into Key West as the favorite to take the title.
But in the three-race mini-season of the Key West event, anything can happen—and usually does. After finishing first on Wednesday, Tomlinson and Coil got a poor start on Friday and finished fourth. They went into Sunday’s contest trailing defending Superboat-class world champion WHM Motorsports by 43 points.
“On Friday we had a position we wanted to take on the start but we were dead last out of the milling area,” Tomlinson said a couple of hours before Sunday’s race. “Instead of just going to where there was a hole, we tried to go to that position, and it just wasn’t there. Today, we’ll take what’s in front of us.”
And that’s exactly what they did that afternoon by finishing first and claiming the world title. What was behind them, however, proved to be nasty as the Pro Floors Racing MTI catamaran spun and rolled—and a split-second later was run over by WHM Motorsports—in the first turn on the first lap. WHM Motorsports ended up in second place overall, and STIHL claimed third.
While a third-place overall finish would be significant accomplishment for any team in the Superboat class, which is far and away the most competitive category under the SBI umbrella, it was particularly meaningful for the STIHL outfit. Throttleman Grant Bruggemann and rookie-season driver Jake Noble were competing in their new-for-2016 Skater 388 catamaran with Sterling Performance power for much more than a trophy and bragging rights. They came to Key West to race, as they had all season—earning one second-place finish and a trio of third-place results—in honor of the late Robert “J.R.” Noble, Jake’s father, who founded the STIHL team and was its driver.
“Once we started racing on Wednesday I noticed it was all starting to happen,” said Bruggemann. “The harder I pushed Jake through the turns, the better he got and the better the boat felt.”
By Sunday’s race, Bruggemann and Noble were completely in sync and finished second. Combined with Wednesday’s fourth-place finish and their third-place finish Friday, that was enough for the STIHL to claim third-place overall. It was a storybook ending for the veteran throttleman and his 29-year-old driver, and both vowed to return next season.
“I definitely wanted to win, but I could not be happier with how the week went,” said Noble.
Noble wasn’t the only rookie sensation to depart Key West delighted. Rusty Rham, the owner and driver of the 48-foot Wake Effects MTI catamaran returned to Osage Beach, Mo., with a Superboat Unlimited-class world championship under his belt. Rham and seasoned throttleman Jeff Harris finished a distant sixth and second on Friday. But their victory on Sunday was enough to move them past second-place overall finisher CRC/Sunlight Supply by just nine points.
“I’m speechless, I really am,” said Rahm, who owns the Wake Effects MTI and towboat dealership in Osage Beach, Mo. “Everything came together perfectly for us today. I still can’t believe it. I didn’t expect to win it with [fellow MTI stable-mates] Bob Bull and Randy Scism here. I was optimistic that our team could go 1-2 overall, but I really didn’t think we’d be No. 1.”
Having raced for a few years on the Offshore Powerboat Association, driver Britt Lilly of the LSB/Hurricane of Awesomeness Superboat Vee-class team could not be described as rookie—and yet this was his first full season on the SBI circuit. (Lilly only competed in the SBI Key West Worlds last year.) Throttleman Ron Umlandt shared the cockpit of the team’s 30-foot Extreme V-bottom with Lilly all season, and the duo headed into Key West with the 2016 National Championship in the class to their credit.
In Key West, they added a world title to their offshore racing resumes.
“I knew before we started today that whoever was in front, Sun Print, Boatfloater, or us, would be the champion,” said Lilly. “I felt like I had the boat dialed in enough to where we had a shot, but I made adjustments every day. I can’t tell you how excited were are. It’s such a great team victory.”