Numbers do tell a story, but they rarely tell the complete story. Take the recent Super Boat International Offshore World Championships in Key West, Fla. The annual SBI season finale attracted 39 V-bottoms and catamarans spread across seven classes.
From a historical standpoint, 39 boats is by no means a big fleet for Key West, where in the best years more than 100 teams have shown up to duke it for world titles in various classes.
But size, especially fleet size, isn’t everything. By the measure of the Superboat Unlimited class alone, the 2014 version of the SBI Worlds was the best event of its kind in recent memory. Conditions ranged from a little lumpy for Wednesday’s race, to glass-flat for Friday’s race, to downright rowdy for Sunday’s race—worth double points just to make things interesting.
From the perspectives of awesome power and speeds often exceeding 150 mph in the straightaways, the Unlimited class is SBI’s premiere category. Of the nine boats—a huge number by any measure in the Unlimited ranks—three were powered by twin 1,650-hp turbocharged Mercury Racing engines, while the rest of the fleet saw entries with supercharged engines mostly in the 1,500-hp range.
But here again, numbers deceive. Of the nine Unlimited-class cats that showed up for Key West, three had a legitimate shot at leaving with a world title, barring mechanical failure. (That’s a substantial caveat, for sure, as such failures are common in the class. Of the Unlimited-class teams in Key West this year, only one—Miss GEICO—finished every lap in all three races.) One was GEICO, a 44-foot Victory catamaran driven by Marc Granet and throttled by Scott Begovich. Having taking the Unlimited-class world championship in 2013, the team came into 2014 with defending their title as motivation and, in the words of Granet, “with the pressure off.”
Having never won a world championship in the class—and not exactly a charter member of the Marc Granet fan club—CMS team owner Bob Bull brought two Marine Technology, Inc. catamarans, also powered by twin Mercury Racing 1650s to get the job done. What’s more, he stacked his cockpit teams with talent. Bull drove his new 52-foot cat with MTI company owner and founder Randy Scism handling the throttles. The chores of campaigning the 48-foot CMS cat fell to driver Jeff Harris and throttleman John Tomlinson.
In short, there wasn’t one CMS team cockpit member who hadn’t won at least one world championship—and in the case of Tomlinson, many world championships—in one class or another. It was as stacked a campaign as the sport has seen in the history of offshore powerboat racing in Key West.
The CMS 48-footer won on Wednesday and Friday—the 52-footer got tangled up with another boat and didn’t finish the race. The CMS cats finished in first and second place in Friday’s breathtaking flat-water drag race. Miss GEICO finished second on Wednesday and third on Friday.
With a DNF in Wednesday’s, Bull and Scism were for all intents and purposes out of contention in their 52-footer for a world title unless they won Sunday’s double points race. Better positioned with wins earlier in the week were Harris and Tomlinson—a second-place finish, as well as any finish ahead of Miss GEICO, would have slammed the door on the GEICO team’s hope to repeat as world champions.
Come Sunday, Friday’s placid waters had given way to what many competitors described as the worst conditions they’d ever seen at the Key West Worlds. But while Bull and Scism ran strong for the entire race, Harris and Tomlinson broke down early and lasted less than four laps. Averaging 81.20 mph in the rough stuff—a far cry from the 105 mph it averaged and the 107 mph both CMS cats average on Friday—Miss GEICO took first place on Sunday. And that was enough for the team to earn its second consecutive Unlimited-class world title.
"Hard, hard fought," said Begovich of Miss GEICO. "It was the roughest race I've ever been in Key West, and I've been racing here since 2000."
Added Granet, “Key West is about reliability. You have to keep your equipment together. After all, you have three races in one week to get through.”
As usual, the numbers tell part of the story. They just don’t tell the complete story.