By any measure, starting on-water testing of a brand-new offshore racing powerboat two weeks before its first race of the season is cutting it close, but that’s exactly what the Spirit of Qatar team plans to do this month.
With only five days of testing under their belt, driver Sheikh Hassan bin Jabor Al-Thani and throttleman Steve Curtis plan to race their new 50-foot Mystic Powerboats catamaran with twin 1,600-hp turbine engines at the Super Boat International Space Coast Grand Prix, May 17-19 in Cocoa Beach, Fla.
The boat, which is being rigged by Curtis—a world-championship-winning throttleman who has shared the cockpit with Sheikh Hassan in Union Internationale Motonautique Class 1 Offshore Racing competition—has been in production for more than a year. Famed turbine engine shop Whispering Turbines handled prepping the boat’s T-53 engines, which will be used throughout the 2013 offshore racing season in SBI’s Turbine class. For special events, the team also has pair of brand-new 3,000-hp T-55 turbine engines ready to go, and the cat’s rail engine-mounting system makings swapping powerplants relatively quick and simple.
“Our target is to dial the boat in during the year, as our test session will be short,” said Sheikh Hassan in a press release from the Qatar Marine Sports Federation. “The main target will be the World Championship at Key West later in the season.”
Sheikh Hassan said he envisions a “Qatar vs. the United States” offshore racing battle similar to golf's Ryder Cup, which Miss GEICO racing team members also touted until they lost their turbine-powered 50-foot Mystic cat to a fire during practice last summer. But Miss GEICO has been reborn for this season as a 44-foot Victory cat with twin Mercury Racing 1650 Race piston engines -- and that leaves Sheik Hassan and Curtis with a big question: Who will they race against?
With Miss GEICO gone, at least with turbine power, and JBS Racing, another turbine-powered 50-foot Mystic cat sold to an owner who has no intention of racing it, that leaves just two turbine offshore racing teams, Aqua-Mania with another 50-Mystic, and Semper Fi with a 48-foot MTI, to run against. And neither team has announced its plans for the season.
Based on the history of the Turbine class, odds are good that Sheikh Hassan and Curtis will end up doing solo hot laps around the rest of the field during most or all of the regular SBI season. Chances are equally good that at least one Turbine-class competitor will show at the SBI Key West Offshore World Championships in November.
But that doesn’t meant the Qatar team won’t have any competition in any class of offshore racing this season. In fact, the team purchased the former Reliable Carriers catamaran, a 42-foot MTI, to run in SBI’s Superboat class, and repowered it with twin 750-hp engines from Scorpion Racing. Qataris Mohammed Al-Nasser and Ali Al-Neam will man the cockpit.
The Qatar outfit even has a third boat, the Spirit of Qatar, a 41-foot Victory catamaran that it could run in SBI’s Unlimited class. However, that cat is powered by twin 1,000-hp Lamborghini engines, which sounds like a lot until you realize that there won’t be a team in the class running less than 1,300-hp engines. Still, it’s an option that’s technically available under the SBI rulebook.
Regardless of how it pans out, offshore racing insiders see the Qatar team's commitment to 2013 domestic offshore racing as a positive move for the sport. And high-performance boat enthusiasts won’t have to go to an offshore race to see the Qatar team, at least if their plan to run the cat—with its 3,000-hp T-55 engines— pans out at the 2013 Lake of the Ozarks Shootout in Missouri, Aug. 23-25.