I guess I have previously spelt out much of the circumstance which, in my opinion, brought about the demise of true offshore powerboat racing internationally.
I have analysed the issues and ultimately concluded that – relative to professional motorsports – offshore powerboat racing has failed to retain a position of relevance.
The comments and responses received, convince me I am not alone in this view!
The key observations are:
· True ‘offshore’ races, which tend to suit monohulls, became a totally different sport to that of inshore sprint races, which tend to suit cats.
· Some powerboating nations have strived to follow the US model, while failing to consider their own realities.
· The true ‘spirit’ of offshore powerboat racing was a ‘semi-professional’, disciplined and competitive level playing field sport, based on a two level, engine capacity rule structure. Class 1 and Class 2. Rather than evolving, that structure has been progressively eroded – but not replaced by any alternative, credible ‘world’ structure.
· Class 3 created a divisional structure for smaller outboard powered sportsboats suited to more sheltered courses – judiciously sharing some courses with 1 & 2. Again, the structure at this level has been eroded by – generally short lived – alternatives.
· Many nations also adopted a parallel production based ‘Cruiser’ class structure – enabling those with more modest budgets to race ‘offshore’ – while retaining the valuable relationship, development, identity and marketing avenues with the wider powerboat industry. Again that structure and value has been diluted and/or dismissed.
· The root of the sport’s demise, is its amateur status, which has enabled top level participants and/or funding contributors, to exert the greatest, often naïve, influence on its administration.
· Rather than pursuing an evolving modernisation of the existing, successful class structure – and recognising the intrinsic values of an international sport – amateur administrations have allowed the naïve desires of an influential minority to dictate the agenda.
· ‘Speed’ has become the focus, at the expense of all the other qualities that comprised the true value and ‘Spirit’ of offshore powerboat racing.
· As speeds and dangers increased, attempts to address the resulting issues focused on the symptoms, rather than causes.
· The metaphor ‘you can’t put the genie back in the bottle’ is true but much bigger realities demand that this is exactly what must be achieved, if the sport is to ever restore credibility, wider interests, community respect and a commercially viable ‘professional’ image!
The issue of amateurism is the key factor.
The early days of the sport brought forth a class of gentleman racers, many of whom were already experienced competitors in professional motorsports.
Their experience helped in the creation of logical and rational technical rules – specifically tailored to the marine (and auto) technology of the era.
They were rules largely based on professional motorsport values and realities, which enabled a ‘connection’ to develop with the public and commercial markets!
With the greatest respect and gratitude to all the decent people, who have endeavoured to administer the sport subsequently, a grasp of the intricacies applicable to professional motorsport has long been absent.
It has been usurped by an insane quest for the sport to showcase a minority ‘biggest is best’ sector. Catamaran or monohull, it may be a spectacle but this culture is emphatically NOT the sport or spirit of ‘offshore powerboat racing’!
If a workable technical rule structure is to be created, to grow and popularise offshore powerboat racing as a competitive marine motorsport, it now demands specific motorsport marketing expertise and experience.
Equally, it demands the input of specific marine architects and marine engineers, familiar with and experienced in the technology of this era.
The primary issue is to recognise and acknowledge, offshore powerboat racing now comprises two totally different sports:
· Monohulls: competing in Open Ocean ‘distance’ races where safety cover is limited, demanding more traditional seamanship factors in regard to control and safety. The vessel and crew performance, strategy and endurance – being key measures of competitiveness.
· Catamarans: competing on relatively sheltered, multi-lap circuits in ‘sprint duration’ multi-heat events – and demanding immediate-response safety cover. The specific control of the craft at high speed being the key measure of competitiveness.
Follow your passion!
I believe it is clear that a revival of authentic Open Ocean ‘Offshore’ Powerboat Racing, is the sport under discussion here. I fully accept there are those focussed on the cat/sprint/circuit style – but it may be that many of the following observations and suggestions also apply in that sector.
A Professional ‘Offshore’ Concept
The sport urgently needs to be redesigned by experienced professionals who understand the needs and complexities of the sport – people who are ‘aware’, progressive and embrace the culture that defines ‘offshore’.
Professional motorsports take a consensus across a wide spectrum of relevant factors which are carefully considered and rationalised – to present classes that makes sense – therefore achieving maximum participation and commercial value.
For the aspiring team seeking to race, the first challenge is to study the rules and create what they believe will be the most competitive machine within that class discipline.
That is the ‘professional’ approach to a mechanical sport. Imagine Formula 1 having 10 different classes to suit every odd-ball car that rocks up!
What would be the point?
Ultimately, would any corporate sponsor or TV producer want to be associated with such a shambles?
This is not to dismiss the reality that several class levels are needed – it is making the point that a rational and fair class structure has to be created that embraces the critical key value factors.
· Straightforward to understand and administrate.
· Comprehensible and relatable to all potential stakeholders.
· Dimensionally safe and seaworthy.
· Fair and competitive within a safe speed range.
· Economically viable to wide participation.
· Embracing environmental responsibility.
· Balanced and fair but encouraging technical initiative, variety and self-expression.
· Logistically practical.
· Conducive to close, competitive and entertaining racing.
· Commensurate with corporate, host venue, media and community values and expectations.
· Commercially related to the marine industry, product technology/availability and market realities.
There are many perceived barriers to this ideal but a significant factor is the understandable tendency for other nations to look to the USA as the role model, assuming that it’s the ‘gospel’ – rather than truly consider their own realities.
With all due respect, the model doesn’t even work particularly well in the US! The multi-lap sprint style format, showcasing a ‘biggest gun’ culture has become entrenched. Oddly, the birthplace of the sport no longer supports the authentic ‘offshore’ concept.
However, what is also clear is that even in the US, there is a substantial sector of people who don’t have the massive wealth – but could afford to race – and would – if there was a ‘professionally oriented’ unifying entity, promoting real, accessible ‘offshore’ powerboat racing.
These people are to be respected and valued.
If the objective is for affordable, competitive and commercially marketable racing, the UIM ‘European’ Marathon model is equally illogical. With 10 class levels ranging from 6.5 to an obscene 27 litres, it presents the bizarre scenario of constantly having more classes than boats!
Clearly, it only encourages contempt. Again, what’s the point!
Both the US scene and the European Marathon efforts, suggest that rules have been made to showcase ‘spectacle’, rather than actual competition.
This encourages a wealthy minority to rig a potentially dominant top-level boat.
The consequence has been total de-motivation for anyone wanting to engage in affordable ‘level playing field’ racing. It smacks of a totally amateur, street race, hot-rod mentality.
Thereby hangs a sport, essentially on life-support!
Make a start:
In my view, a democratic starting point would be an international understanding and consensus at both organisational and ‘team’ levels. Potential may then exist for national and international entities to re-establish some semblance of alignment and harmony.
A first step would be to establish an international ‘alliance’. A union of progressive entities, engineers, designers, teams and other stakeholders, that ‘get it’ – communicating and establishing terms of reference and ultimately, an internationally agreed class and rule structure.
The alliance should establish a ‘Brand’ identity and ideally, a credible, professional image to commercial sponsors, TV production companies and other media.
I should mention, that I do appreciate the current wave of nostalgia in the UK, generated by boats from the ‘classic’ offshore era.
They deserve focus, as classic cars do among auto motorsport enthusiasts – but they don’t race Lotus 72’s at Monaco, Porsche 917’s at Le Mans, or CanAm Mclaren M8’s at Riverside anymore.
Specific festival events where their value is keenly celebrated, is their true destiny – Goodwood Festival in the UK is exactly that in the auto sector. A classic powerboat equivalent needs to be created.
Truly modern and commercially viable ‘Offshore Powerboat Championships’ – National, Continental and World – must promote the ‘state of the art’ marine sector technology of today, reflecting the economics and environmental responsibilities of the era we live in!
A Clean Slate:
To create a truly ‘professional’ and inclusive offshore powerboat structure, the fundamentals must be recognised and prioritised. A draft needs to be spelt out and those who wish to see serious competition on a level playing field invited to engage and contribute.
An international alliance of interested parties may then be established. It is ‘people power’ that creates change and commercial support demands market volume. This means that every potential stakeholder, throughout the entire spectrum, must engage!
I would be happy to instigate and develop a communication hub, to which I invite anyone who agrees ‘in principle’ with this assessment and feels strongly enough, to contribute.
At this stage, I would particularly like to hear from like-minded powerboat people, or potential powerboat people, who may have: a professional motorsport background, or may have: a professional sports-marketing/media background.
Contact Adrian Bright – firstname.lastname@example.org
Photo: Malc Attrill