Tremayne Jukes sat on top of the Unlimited Superboat championship points table heading into the first ever event at Keith in South Australia, the Victorian acknowledging that he may not be able to repeat his giant-killing effort from the opening round of the season where he defeated four-time national champion Phonsy Mullan in Temora, but in front of more than 10,000 screaming fans ‘Maniac’ once again claimed the top spot.
The event saw Mullan typically dominating the qualifiers before Jukes was able to ‘open-up’ his 1300-horsepower machine in the finals, stopping the clocks in the last rotation a full six tenths faster than Mullan in a time few felt was possible.
Jukes’ win was almost overshadowed though by 400-Class rookie Ben Hathaway in ‘Weapon’. The Victorian had set a stunning pace in the opening round at Temora, but lost out in the battle for the top three after an electrical gremlin stopped him in the final. This time though Hathaway was not going to be denied, setting a cracking pace from opening qualifying to defeat multiple Australian champion Mark Garlick, and reigning title-holder Brett Thornton in the final.
Despite going back-to-back with his second win of the year, Jukes admitted that he had to throw caution into the wind in the end to beat Mullan, who had been the pace-setter for much of the day.
“When I went out for the final, all I knew was that Phonsy had thrown down a 48, and I knew then that the only chance I had was to take a risk. To that point I hadn’t extended myself and gone out of my comfort zone, but I knew where I could take a couple of chances, and the boat proved up to the challenge – I never expected to be that quick, it was quite a surprise, but I’m happy to have done it.”
For Ben Hathaway, his first victory in the 400-Class has paved the way to what promises to be another entertaining season long battle for the top step of the podium.
“It’s awesome,” he admitted afterwards. “I never expected that to be the result, but I was just so comfortable in the boat that I didn’t want to back off and risk putting it up the bank. Perhaps all my experience at Cabarita helped because it was a testing tight circuit and the boat, and the team, were exceptional.”
For the sport of jetsprinting in Australia, Keith was a revelation, AFJSA President Grant Bourke thanking the man responsible for much of the success – local farmer Glen Simpson – for his efforts, admitting that the V8 Superboat fraternity can’t wait for the next event in South Australia.
The first Keith event saw teams provided with two practice sessions the afternoon prior to the round to acclimatize themselves with the circuit, but almost immediately the tight Keith layout claimed its first victim, with reigning Unlimited Superboat World#3 Aaron Hansen submerging Glenn Robert’s ‘Blown Budget’ after clipping the barrels.
Sadly for the former 350-Class star who claimed an impressive fourth in Temora, the boat suffered some mechanical issues and required immediate repair, yet despite a fleeting visit to Adelaide first thing Saturday morning, they were unable to repair the boat before final qualifying and give the two teams a chance to capitalize on their opening round result.
By the time qualifying started on Saturday morning though, a pattern started to emerge about what the day would provide for the vocal Keith crowd – most of whom had never witnessed the sport previously.
Phonsy Mullan was immediately quickest in the Unlimited class, an impressive 2.3-seconds faster than popular South Australian Tony Giustozzi. Sadly Tremayne Jukes was nowhere to be seen, the points leader battling an electrical fault after the magneto kept moving which was changing the timing as the boat sat on the ramp waiting to head out.
Jeremy Kincaid became the next victim of the Keith course, clipping the barrels mid-lap in the opening qualifier, inverting the supercharged-Ford in the water, fortunately without any harm to driver or navigator but with a big ingestion of water, the day was over for the ‘Rogue’ team.
The next victim came in round two, with West Australian champion Nigel Johnson suffering a mechanical failure, fortunately without serious implications, but enough to eliminate ‘Loaded Weapon’ from taking the fight to the established stars.
By Q4 Mullan continued to lead the pack, but by that stage Jukes too was firing, two quick runs in the mid 50s, hauling him up to second fastest qualifier, whilst a couple of DNFs dropped fan favourites Giustozzi and Mick Carroll in ‘Excalibur’ back to third and fourth.
Former 400-Class champions Ted and Darek Sygidus by this stage were mounting a forward assault, the ‘Frankenzstain’ pair finally getting on top of the setup in their 500ci naturally-aspirated machine to be hot on the heels of the ‘Excalibur’ pair.
Sadly Daniel deVoigt was out in Q4, the Devo Racing machine clipping barrels and sucking plastic into the intake, the damage enough to eliminate the Queenslander from the finals, whilst for dual Australian champion Daryl Hutton – he was enduring another tough weekend.
“We just can’t get our new Stinger hull to work, it doesn’t matter what we do,” Hutton lamented after failing to break the 60-second mark. “We spent countless hours working on it after the disappointment of Temora, but nothing we do seems to work – it still steers on the nose and without warning throws you sideways. I’ve had some wild rides in my time, but this one I really don’t like!”
Whilst the fight was heating up in the Unlimited class, in 400s, it was almost a matter of who would be battling over second, such was the early advantage enjoyed by ‘Weapon’s’ Ben Hathaway.
More than three seconds faster than his rivals out the gate in Q1, Hathaway improved to a best of 52.889 in Q3, a time which would have put him in the top six in the Unlimited class, and a time three and a half seconds faster than the next best 400 Class boat in reigning champion Brett Thornton.
By the final qualifier, 2015 400-Class champion Mark Garlick had whittled the lead down to just 2.3-seconds, but Hathaway was literally in a league of his own, Thornton finishing qualifying third fastest almost three seconds back and with fellow Queenslander Paul Kelly mere tenths behind.
Reigning AUS#2 Jody Ely was next, the Victorian keeping within reach of the leaders, whilst Greg Harriman in his newly re-liveried ‘Pink Boots Foundation’ Mackraft improved to be inside the top six. Next up was the returning Justin Roylance who finally had a chance to enjoy his countless hours of off-season effort by turning his first competitive laps of the season in the new look Outlaw Team Spitwater entry.
Brad Marsden was next quickest, from Ivan Safranek in his points leading 350-Class machine, whilst the unfortunate Hugh Gilchrist was unable to complete a lap in the ‘Pink Boots Foundation’ machine, which kept him from a run in the finals.
After working himself up to speed despite losing two qualifying sessions to his rival, Jukes and the ‘Maniac’ team fired the first shot in the opening final, setting a blistering 49.800 to top the timesheets, which although fast, was still more than six tenths slower than Mullan’s top qualifying effort of 49.145.
Knowing he’d need to be back in the 49s to push Jukes, Mullan improved to a 50.357 in the top six, but Jukes improved again to set the fastest time of the day – shaving mere hundredths off Mullan’s best to re-set the mark to 49.017.
Whilst the top two battled for the lead of the timesheets, behind them Ted Sygidus emerged as the next quickest boat after the demise of the ‘Excalibur’ pair, with Hutton fourth. Glenn Roberts was back in the points, having been offered a lifeline by Hutton to share the ‘Victorian American Imports’ boat, whilst Superboat veteran Paul Burgess made the top six cut, but DNF’ed the second final.
With Hutton and Roberts eliminated heading into the final three, Sygidus stepped things up to set an impressive 51.049, shaving almost three seconds off his previous best. Next up was Mullan who dropped Jukes’ new benchmark to a stunning 48.912.
Knowing his rival had lowered his previous best, Jukes had no option other than to throw caution to the wind, extending the legs of his 1300-horsepower machine to shave a tenth off as many corners as he could, the points leader ultimately dropping the mark to a jaw-dropping 48.327 to claim his second win of the season.
In 400-Class the battle for the top step was no less intriguing, with multiple Australian champion Mark Garlick inching closer and closer to Ben Hathaway’s benchmark times with every run, the Queenslander admitting that he would have his work cut out for him to regain another Group A title this season.
“When we started, we were like eight seconds slower than Ben, so I wondered what on earth we could do about it, but the old girl (Grumpy) just got quicker and quicker, and in the end we got to within four tenths of a second before he turned up the wick in the final,” Garlick explained.
For Hathaway he never truly looked tested, admitting that his new machine was perfect, but that it had taken him some time to get used to it.
“This is just my third run in the boat, but I’m starting to understand it now,” he admitted. “To start with it was completely alien and very difficult to drive, but there’s been a few key areas I’ve had to learn, and it’s such a breeze now to drive. Someone on the weekend suggested I shouldn’t go out so fast, but I’m not trying to break the back of the field, I just want to stay focused. I fear if I went any slower I’d throw it up the bank.”
A 52.988 was just shy of his Q3 time, but it put Hathaway on top for the first final, and despite slowing to a 53.881 in the top six, and then a 53.026 in the final, Mark Garlick and round one winner Brett Thornton were unable to do anything about the ‘Weapon’, Hathaway ultimately claiming the win by just on 1.4-seconds, with Thornton third, a frustrated 2.6-seconds back from the top time.
Another one who was frustrated was Paul Kelly. Electing to campaign a full season in 2017, the Queenslander started strongly in Temora on his debut, and he was within mere tenths of reigning champion Thornton in qualifying before falling an agonizing 93 one thousandths of a second shy of the points leader in the top six.. It can be a cruel sport!
Despite the result, Kelly’s result keeps him right in the points battle. Greg Harriman was back in a position to make the top three, but a DNF in the top six kept him from that dream, the new pink-coloured machine forced out with technical issues likely the result of a number of out of water excursions across the day, although fifth in points was a solid haul after not starting in Temora.
Justin Roylance was sixth after an electrical alarm on his dashboard distracted the Outlaw Team Spitwater driver in the first final, despite the setback his pace in qualifying gave him solid points from a weekend where he had a lot to learn from his new JRE Race Engines tuned machine.
Jody Ely had a strong start to the day, but an off in the first final put paid to his run but he still hangs on to fourth in points within striking distance of the leaders. Queenslander Brad Marsden was also starting to creep up on the leaders towards the finals, but unfortunately inverted the boat in the Top 12 ending up where every team fears to be – upside down in the water – but fortunately both driver and navigator were unscathed. Frustratingly too for 350/LS-Class points leader Ivan Safranek, his team were also unable to continue through beyond the opening final.
For now teams can enjoy a relatively short break until round three of the Australian V8 Superboats championship which will be held at the Griffith venue on the traditional Easter date with a day/night event on Saturday, 15 April.
Photos: Russell Puckeridge, Pureart Creative Images