Without question, Miss Geico, a turbine-powered 50-foot-long Mystic catamaran, is the most recognizable boat in offshore powerboat racing. It also is the loneliest. That’s because despite all the raceboats in various classes you might see it passing at any given offshore race, Miss Geico usually “races” alone.
What do I mean? Other turbine-class raceboats have shown up at a handful—and I mean a handful—of races to compete with Geico during the past five years. Notable competitors have included Aqua-Mania and JBS Racing, both 50-foot Mystic cats, but for various reasons they’ve been inconsistent competitors for the Miss Geico team.
Most likely, that won’t change much for the 2012 racing season. The Aqua-Mania team has reportedly committed to several races this season, as has the Miss Mary Mac team, which field a 48-foot-long Marine Technology, Inc., turbine-powered cat, but in the uber-expensive world of turbine class offshore racing, even the best-laid plans don’t always translate to appearances.
In 2013, Miss Geico should have consistent competition in the class. That’s because the Qatar Sports Federation has contracted Mystic and Whispering Turbines to build a 50-foot cat for competition in the United States. Production of the boat is underway.
“Our idea is to expand the racing map that we participate in, as well as expand into new race categories to become the leader in powerboat racing,” said Sheikh Hassan bin Jabor Al-Thani of Qatar. “We have raced alongside the Miss Geico team in the past, but we were in two different classes and not far behind, even with the restricted engines we used in 2010.”
Sheikh Hassan was referring to the season he chose to pull his country’s piston-powered, Lamborghini engine raceboats from Union International Motonautique Class 1 competition overseas and campaign them on the Offshore Powerboat Association tour in the States. Marc Granet, who drive Miss Geico with Scott Begovich handling the throttles, said he couldn’t be more delighted with Qatar’s decision—and then threw down the gauntlet.
“The exciting thing about having a consistent partner is to be able to give the fans what they’re looking for in the turbine class, which is spectacular speed on the water,” said Granet. “Look at NASCAR. Look at Indy racing. People come to races to see extremes speeds. Sheikh Hassan and Steve Curtis (the likely choice as Qatar’s throttleman) are seasoned world champions. The potential for side-by-side boat racing, crews that all show in uniforms, telemetry booths on shore, is the level we all aspire to, and where we know this sport can be.
“But if they think running around with us during an OPA race where we’re holding our speed to 140 mph to make it a show is like running 188 mph in a turbine cat, they have a surprise in store for them,” he added and laughed.
Whether or not the Sheikh realized the Miss Geico cat was taking it easy to preserve the show, he came away with a positive take on domestic offshore racing. And that triggered his decision to build a turbine class raceboat for 2013.
“Racing in the USA opened our eyes to so many things, one of which is being part of an event where the social scene and interacting with other teams and people is a priority,” he said. “It also was interesting that we caught everyone’s attention when we spoke about Qatar.”
In reality, while Miss Geico and Qatar will be competitors on the racecourse, they are working as a team when it comes to the development of the sport. They are combining forces to develop safety standards and an entire safety program for the class. Each team will have its own safety officer responsible for signing off on pre-determined safety inspections before each race. The class also will have its own dedicated rescue helicopter above the course during each event.
But will two consistent entries be enough to spark other race teams to field boats in the class? The Miss Geico and Qatar teams believe it—and are banking on it.
“Already there are other well-funded teams watching what we are doing and discussing making the commitment to running with the super-fast turbines,” said Granet. “The Sheikh has eluded to bringing the turbine class to the Middle East after the 2013 season here ends in November for two or three races. That is likely to attract other teams in the Middle East. Once you see these boats run at these speeds, you cannot deny how awe-inspiring they are.”
- Matt Trulio