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Keeping Pace

Unlimited Hydroplane Season Set To Open This Weekend In Madison, Ind.

Steve David (Lighthouse Pt., Fla.) will be getting ready to defend his 2008 National High Point Championship. But what makes this opening race special is he will be doing it front of the fans and in the city that owns this boat.


Courtesy: ABRA Media Relations

When the ABRA unlimited hydroplane season opens this coming weekend (July 3 – 5) with the Madison Regatta,  11 boats are expected to be in the pits ready to race on the Ohio River.

Steve David (Lighthouse Pt., Fla.) will be getting ready to defend his 2008 National High Point Championship. But what makes this opening race special is he will be doing it front of the fans and in the city that owns this boat.

It is one of the most unique stories in all of sports.  The City of Madison (Ind.), population 13,000 not only hosts a major unlimited hydroplane race, it also owns a boat that races on the ABRA national circuit.  Sponsored by Oh Boy! Oberto, the city has been racing an unlimited hydroplane since 1961, and last year was the first time in 48 years the team won the coveted national championship.

“This is going to be a special day, starting the season in Madison, Ind. in front of the owners—the fans—of this hydroplane, “ said David. “It is a privilege to drive for the city and fans of Madison, but to win the first national championship for this team since its inception in 1961 and to start the season in the team’s hometown is going to extra special.

“To think this city has always rooted for the ‘6’ boat and this year, they will be able to root for the ‘1’ boat.”

In the sport of unlimited hydroplane racing, the number ‘1’ given to the national champion, signifying the team’s standing from the year before.

And while David is coming back to start the year as the defending national champion, Jeff Bernard (Kent, Wash.), driver of the U-5 Formulaboats.com boat, is returning to defend the Madison Regatta title he won in 2008.

Bernard won his first career ABRA unlimited hydroplane race one year ago, shocking the Madison fans with an unbelievable run to outlast David in the Oh Boy! Oberto.

“Last year’s Madison Regatta win was my first unlimited race championship in my hydroplane career,” said Bernard. “It was a special moment. 

“Everyone was pulling for the Oh Boy! Oberto but I got a great start and I had the boat to take the final heat wire-to-wire.”

The Comfort Inn Pit Tours start off the weekend activity on Friday, July 3 at 9 a.m. with the testing starting at 11 a.m. and with Round One qualifying beginning at 1 p.m.

More qualifying and the first set of elimination heats take place Saturday with the remainder of the elimination heats and the Madison Regatta championship taking place Sunday with the final scheduled for 4:20 p.m.

Villwock, Elam Return: Dave Villwock (Auburn, Wash.), the winningest active driver on unlimited circuit (56 wins in 112 races from 1992-2008) and the U-16 Ellstrom Elam team return to Madison and the ABRA circuit. The fact that Erick Ellstrom’s bright orange race boat will make the entire 2009 ABRA Tour is great news for race fans, if not for the competition.  The 2007 National High Point Championship team will be back on the water, after skipping much of the 2008 season, featuring some of the best state-of-the-art technology in the history the sport.

Ellstrom reports his team has spent the past four months in the engine room at their Ballard, Wash. shop, preparing motors for the ABRA’s new 4.1 gpm fuel flow maximum.  As Ellstrom explained, “There is more to running well at 4.1 than just turning down your fuel flow.  The teams that learn that early on will have an advantage as the season begins.”

Regarding the competition, Ellstrom says, “The pits are full of strong teams now.  The Oberto team has a great hull and they know how to run it.  The same is true for the Formula Boats as well as the U-37. If they get a handle on the 4.1 flow, they can all run out front.”

Starting rules changed for 2009 season: The 2009 American Boat Racing Association season will have only a few rule changes but the new starting rules will be a major focus for the drivers, teams and fans.

The starting rules have changed.  Now qualifying and elimination heats will have a major impact on how the boats start in the new assigned lanes platform.

Now, teams will have assigned lanes, selected through qualifying and elimination heat finishes.

The following method shall be used to determine the order in which starting lanes are chosen for all heats:

(a)    Heat 1A & 1B – Final qualifying order shall determine first choice of lane i.e. the top qualifier shall have first choice for lane assignment in his drawn heat.  The second place qualifier shall have the second choice of lane assignment in his drawn heat, etc. 

(b)   Heat 2A & 2B – Lane choice shall be determined by the reverse of the final position of the previous heat.  i.e., first place in Heat 1A shall choose last, second place chooses second to last, etc. The last place finisher in the heat shall have first choice of lane for the heat in which he has drawn.  Should two identical positions of the previous heat draw the same heat in the section then the first choice of lane (or the tie breaker) shall be determined by the final qualifying order.

(c)    Heat 3A & 3B – Final heat and Provisional Heat – Choosing order for the provisional and final heats shall be determined by cumulative points from the qualification heats.

a.       Final qualifying order shall be used to break any ties on points to determine lane choice for the Provisional and Final Heats.

(d)   Drivers shall choose lanes for the first heat at the driver’s meeting

(e)   The qualifying speed of the hull that is raced in Section 1 shall be used to determine lane choice.

a.       New lane choice shall be made if the qualifying speed of the hull raced in Section 1 results in a new final qualifying order.   

(The start clock will continue to be used as it has been in the past—10 min to the 5 min, 5 min to the 5 min — the clock starts, 5 min, 1 min, and zero START.)

The only other rule change involves fuel flow in Rule 13/E.  In 2008, the maximum fuel consumption was 4.3 GPM (Gallons per minute).  This year, the GPM will be limited to 4.1.


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Motorsports correspondent Doug Pace keeps up with motorsports news and notes from around the region.

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