After a 13 month sabbatical to negotiate the pandemic, the Penrite Australian V8 Superboats Championship finally makes a return to the water with the opening round of the new season set for the popular Spitwater Arena circuit at Keith in South Australia with a stellar list of entries.
There have been a few movements across the ‘off’ season with a number of new boats added to the entry list, whilst the impact of the pandemic has also affected others, increased work commitments now that restrictions have eased forcing a number of teams to make the hard decision to miss the opening round.
That hasn’t deterred many of the favourites though, with some truly world class battles expected across the three ‘senior’ categories, led again by the elite Unlimited Superboat field which contains a pair of world champions.
For the Keith venue, the return of the Penrite V8 Superboat series can’t come soon enough, sadly the cancellation of the popular Keith Diesel & Dirt Derby event – for which Superboats is an integral part – had a big impact on the local community with the onset of the pandemic, so much so they had to postpone the event again due to Covid restrictions and crowd limits, adopting instead the ‘Keith Revved Up’ event, a reduced program that fortunately features V8 Superboats.
With an impressive array of entries converging on the regional South Australian circuit, and the ongoing provision of the Penrite V8 Superboats LIVE STREAM, fans are sure to be kept entertained across the day.
2019 champion Slade Stanley comes into the new season on a winning streak that has extended seven long races from the second round of the 2019 season, the only trophy missing from his cabinet is the winners trophy from Keith, the season-opener two years ago ending in the top six after a throttle cable failure slowed the opening sector of his lap, just dropping him outside the final three. From there he made amends with a complete demolition of the Unlimited field with some of his laps 4-5 seconds faster than his rivals, including reigning World Champion Phonsy Mullan.
Six-time Australian Unlimited champion Mullan spent much of 2019 behind the eight ball after losing his primary twin-turbo powerplant during the final at Keith, a rare mechanical failure forcing him to adopt his secondary engine, the bespoke 583ci naturally-aspirated LS powerplant that just wasn’t matched to the multiple championship winning Sprintec hull, forcing him to make do with a package that in the end was no match for Stanley.
Ultimately he received delivery of a new Jetspeed hull designed around the 583ci engine late in the season, the RAMJET team debuting at Cabarita during the 2019 season finale with mixed results after teething problems with the new package, a project which had only come together in the two weeks prior to the final. Mullan ran the package again at the sole 2020 event at Temora, carding a fourth placed finish behind Stanley, Scott Krause and Daryl Hutton although the off-season break had allowed little development time.
This weekend Mullan will again campaign the 583 in a much revised Jetspeed, the 2020 setback allowing him a chance to spend a little time on tweaking the new package in an effort to move closer to Stanley and an emerging podium battle with former champions Hutton and Krause.
For Stanley his promise to take the fight to his rivals with a ‘smaller’ lighter weight package than the one he debuted at the 2018 UIM World Series has also faced delays, with the former 400-Class world title holder expecting to debut his new machine mid-season whilst returning to the boat that claimed the 2019 title for the opening rounds of 2021.
Whilst you could expect to see Stanley continue the form that delivered him the 2019 AUS#1 title, don’t discount Mullan to find something special and reignite the classic battle the two fought over the 400-Class title back in 2008, but also expect to see the podium fight come alive, with a resurgent Daryl Hutton battling Mullan and co-2018 champion Scott Krause for a place in the final three, however there’s every chance they won’t be the only ones..
In 2019 Mick Carroll delivered his first win in a number of seasons at Keith, the South Australian lifting to a different level in front of his home fans, he will be right in the mix again at Keith and a true podium threat, a performance you can expect the multiple race winner to carry into the following rounds.
Glenn ‘Spider’ Roberts too will be expected to perform strongly at Keith, the crowd favourite always within reach of a podium, and better suited to daytime events although his greatest hurdle with the degenerative disease that impacts his vision in low light, is heavily overcast conditions, something which may well be on the cards this weekend as a huge rain front covers much of the country.
There’s a couple of additional entries in the Unlimited class for the season opener that may also spring a surprise or two.. One of them is former 400-Class race winner Mitch Roylance who is campaigning his 410ci naturally-aspirated JRE powereplant in ‘BlackJack’. Roylance loves to surprise the favourites and if there’s one thing that Keith has shown in past years, it’s that some of the lighter boats with smaller engines and well set up jet units are capable of making the Unlimited class podium when the ‘big boys’ falter..
Case in point is March round in 2018 when two LS powered boats made the Unlimited final, good news for 2017 400-Class champion Ben Hathaway who is entered in Matt Malthouse’s ‘Nood Nutz’ machine this weekend as an Unlimited boat..
12 months ago Hathaway debuted the boat alongside Malthouse during the sole 2020 event, winning the LS-Class final with ease, in the process, setting a time that would have delivered him victory in 400-Class.. Keep an eye on that combination, around the tight technical Keith layout, Hathaway could just be the ‘sleeper’ in the pack!
As for the returning Andrew Page – there are a lot of V8 Superboat fans anticipating the long-awaited return of ‘Kamakazi’ – one of the most notorious and angry boats in V8 Superboats history, although as we came into race week, there were still some questions as to whether the popular Mildura-based team would complete the boat ready for competition, but for the sake of the fans, we’re all hoping they do!
400-CLASS (International Group A)
Sadly we will see a much depleted 400-Class field at Keith, with reigning champion Paul Kelly and former champions Mark Garlick, Brett Thornton and Ben Hathaway absent from the entry this weekend, business commitments keeping the Queenslanders at home, whilst Hathaway is without his own boat (‘Weapon’ now belongs to Kyle Elphinstone), instead joining Matt Malthouse again in ‘Nood Nutz’, the Victorian campaigning the boat in the Unlimited class.
The absence of the four former champions robs us of what would have been an epic season opener, especially off the back of Justin Roylance’s rise to become one of the pre-season favourites, the ‘Outlaw67’ team having won the last two 400-Class finals contested at both Cabarita to close out the 2019 season, and the sole event of 2020 at Temora.
Having made a few ‘comfort’ adjustments to the boat in the off-season, Roylance is primed and ready for the new season whilst fellow ‘Jetspeed’ pilot Jody Ely is looking forward to the challenge of fighting Roylance for the top step of the podium, both though lamenting it’s unlikely to be a six-way battle for the title.
They won’t have it all their own way though as Brendan Doyle returns in a new look ‘The Girlfriend’, the New South Weslhman recovering from a season-ending off at Griffith in 2019 before going on a complete rebuild of the boat with assistance from former 350-Class champion and 400-Class World#3 Daniel James, the engine getting a workover from JRE’s Brad James. The James duo are expected to work with Doyle all season as the teams works towards title contention, although for this weekend, it’s former Unlimited front-runner and boat manufacturer Tremayne Jukes that will be in the Doyles’ corner aiding them in getting back up to speed with the new setup.
Formerly the most subscribed category in V8 Superboats, the 400-Class field will host just seven entries at Keith, although there will be no shortage of challengers in the field. Former AFJSA President Greg Harriman is back for another season in the new look ‘Apache’ alongside fellow Pink Boots Racing team-mate Hugh Gilchrist, the pair looking to be regular podium contenders this year.
Former 350-Class champion Andrew Medlicott – a two-time winner in LS-Class in season 2019 returns to 400s for the first time since the season opener at Keith in 2019, whilst Ron O’Day will also make the return journey across to South Australia, both looking for an improvement on their 2019 debuts at Spitwater Arena.
The new look LS-Class kicked off at Keith in season 2019 with just a solitary entry for Kyle Elphinstone, but by the end of that year there were often more than seven or eight boats in each round, such has been the popularity of the developmental class designed as an entry level to the sport.
Elphinstone would go on to take five finals wins in the 2019 season (Andrew Medlicott claiming the other two) and with it claim the title, but by the close of that season it was clear he would have no shortage of challengers in subsequent years.
The 2020 season began with a dominant performance from former 400-Class champion Ben Hathaway in Matt Malthouse’s ‘Nood Nutz’. Hathaway will campaign the boat again this weekend but as an ‘Unlimited’ machine, whilst Malthouse will be going after the 2021 title in LS-Class, the Keith local hoping to kick off the season strongly in front of his home fans.
For reigning champion Elphinstone, 2020 saw a change for the ‘Blackout Racing’ team, with the purchase of the former championship winning 400-Class ‘Sprintec’ of Brooke Dixon and Ben Hathaway, the team hoping the new boat will weather the oncoming storm from a raft of rivals looking to make a bid for the top step of the podium.
For reigning AUS#2 Dwayne Mezzadri, he will continue with the ‘Unleashed’ package he first unveiled at round three of the 2019 season, a package which delivered five consecutive runner-up finishes on the way to claiming second in the championship. He may not have the resources of Elphinstone or Malthouse, but the determined New South Welshman will look to repeat his 2019 performance which saw very few mistakes, and an impressive level of consistency.
Mezzadri, like Elphinstone and Malthouse will have no easy path to a podium finish though with six more LS-Class entries at Keith led by two second generation drivers that have a championship winning pedigree..
Bastian Mullan – son of seven-time Australian champion Phonsy – made his debut at Temora in 2020, impressing with the maturity of his drive to be pressing the leaders from the outset, a slight navigational error in the first final unsettling what had been an impressive run, the [then] 16-year old having qualified third outright.. This weekend Bastain will be joined by younger brother Nate who just recently turned 16, in a two-pronged Mullan attack on the LS-Class, the ‘RIPSHIFT’ team well worth watching as they look to battle for a podium result in season 2021.
Like the 2019 season, there will also be a string of new entries into the LS-Class at Keith including the ‘JB Racing’ entry of long-time V8 Superboat proponents Andrew ‘Jim’ Beaman and Bill Biggin. The two have been around the sport for years in their roles as technical support to a number of teams, Beaman a long-time member of the ‘Phoenix Lubricants’ team of two-time Unlimited champion Daryl Hutton, whilst Biggin has been involved with a number of teams over many years, the pair deciding it was time they sampled the action from the seat and not the trailer.
The experienced pair will be joined by fellow rookies Nick Druery (Hazzmat) and Chris Edmonds (Solid Gold) for their maiden event in V8 Superboats.
The opening round of the 2021 Penrite Australian V8 Superboats Championship will kick off from 9:30am with the first of four qualifying rounds ahead of the finals which will begin at 2:30pm, but for those who cannot be at the circuit, LIVE streaming will be available on the AFJSA Facebook page; www.facebook.com/V8Superboats
The pandemic has affected access to the event with limited numbers able to spectate, however all attendees need to have purchased tickets online ahead of the weekend via; https://bit.ly/2PgUs7L
The Keith Showgrounds are located on the north-eastern side of Dukes Highway off Emu Flat Road. Qualifying heats will begin on Saturday from 9:30am, with the finals underway at 2:30pm.