Reigning Australian Unlimited Superboat champion Phonsy Mullan might have claimed his fourth consecutive round victory for the season at Cabarita, but he was forced to put in the drive of his life to take the win, after an all-out attack during the ‘Top 6’ from New Zealander Rob Coley and former Australian Champion Greg Mercier.
In another drama-filled round, Mullan only just made it into the final three after an epic drive by both Coley and Mercier laid the foundations for a memorable final.
Coley - aided by former New Zealand championship winning navigator Kellie Minnell - looked set to endure another difficult round at the Tweed Coast venue after failing to perfect navigation throughout the bulk of qualifying, but the 705ci-Chev powered ‘Poison Ivy’ came alive in the ‘Top 6’ final to set the fastest time of the weekend, sadly though he couldn’t duplicate it in the final, settling for second.
Campaigning a new jet unit that had given him more than a couple of headaches when the championship was last on the water in late May, Greg Mercier and his ‘ACOL Skylights’ team were right on the money from opening qualifying this time around, the Victorian - with wife Dorinda alongside - set the top time in the final qualifier, and looked set to repeat the result in the final before an off on the final corner..
“I’d run it close to that bank a couple of times on the weekend, and it caught me (and Mullan, and Hutton) at one point, but I knew I could shave a fraction more off, but was just slightly offline in that last run, and up the bank it went,” Mercier lamented afterwards. “Someone watching told me I was right on the money when it happened, but you have to put a full lap together, not 99% of one.. Regardless, we’re happy we’ve found what we were looking for after the last event, and we proved we have the pace to match the leaders, and I think at the next round at Temora, we might just surprise a few people!”
Whilst the 14-entry Unlimited Superboat class provided plenty of action, the pace in the 400 Class was again impressive, with little separating the title contenders.
In the end, Mark Garlick kept his title hopes alive with his third win of the season to take a share of the points lead with ‘Kryptonite’s’ Damian O’Leary, whilst the consistent Kevin Laugesen put in one of his best drives to claim third. Round two winner Brooke Lucas was also in the mix early, but a mechanical issue just ahead of the top six saw the former 350 Class champion forced to withdraw, allowing local driver Brad Marsden, and another former 350 Class champion - Brett Thornton - into the mix.
Typically the event provided plenty of on-track action, with almost all of the leading contenders out of the water at one point.
Mullan and dual-Australian champion Daryl Hutton (Total Lubricants) set the early Unlimited pace on Saturday during the opening two qualifiers, whilst Mercier suffered a DNF, and Coley kept the crowd entertained as he searched for the correct navigation.
A podium finisher in both races last time out, Melbourne’s Tremayne Jukes opted for a new challenge this time around, campaigning arguably one of the most dramatic boats in the sport’s history; the appropriately named, Kamakazi.. The 1500bhp supercharged 436ci V8 has had a myriad of drivers over the years, and almost all have suffered dramatic ‘out-of-water’ experiences as a result..
Jukes was impressive first time out, setting the fourth fastest time, but whilst on a screamer in Q2, he clipped the bank and rolled into the channel with the boat on its side. Jukes was above water, but navigator Brett Elsworth was still submerged, however Jukes and the safety crew quickly extracted him from the boat to the applause of the building crowd.
“We’ve been trying to get this gremlin out of the boat that’s been there since it was new, when it was Rob Colman’s boat, it used to bite him, then [Andrew] Pagey had a lot of trouble with it - it’s never finished a race meeting, and unfortunately it’s not going to this weekend either!” Jukes admitted. “We’ll pull the engine down and make sure it’s okay, but as for the hull, that’s getting cut up when I get it home, that’s it for this one!”
By Sunday morning a pattern was starting to emerge, with Mullan, Mercier, Coley and Hutton all in the mix, and then the action started..!
In Q3 Hutton and Mick Carroll were out of the water whilst setting some stunning laps, whilst in Q4, Hutton, Mercier and Mullan suffered a similar fate, the points leader clipping the penultimate corner to spin backwards across the timing line, taking it with him as he mounted the bank, fortunately without significant damage.
Then came the biggest off of the weekend, former race winner Tony Giustozzi ran wide as he came back up the circuit towards the crowd, riding the bank before flipping over one and a half times to end up inverted in front of the huge crowd on the hill.
The fans were silent as they waited for news from the crew, only to hear the sounds of Giustozzi laughing to himself as he and navigator Lockie Warner asked the safety crew to flip them back over.
Fortunately the boat - and the crew - were okay, a little bit of panel-beating back in the pits allowing Mick Carroll to take Excalibur out for his run, in the process making it all the way through to the final six, despite the less than pristine look of the boat.
As for Giustozzi, his antics made him an overnight sensation on social media, as the onboard video of the crash went viral, reaching millions of viewers in the days following the event, and an appearance on two of Australia’s leading television networks..
Two teams missing from the finals were ‘Frankensztain’ and ‘Hi-Tec Oils’, the Sygidus brothers coming to grips with the return of the 510ci naturally-aspirated V8 to work their way into contention towards the close of qualifying before a frustrating mechanical failure just prior to the finals, something which also claimed former Unlimited champion Phil Dixon who was returning as a ‘super-sub’ for daughter Brooke - he and wife Louise eliminated after opening qualifying.
As the finals drew to their conclusion, the pace stepped-up again, Hutton putting in his best run of the weekend in the ‘Top 6’ only to miss the final cut by less than four tenths of a second - to Mullan! Ultimately though the reigning champion, who is now just one round away from three-peating the championship [2013/2014..] prevailed with his fastest run of the weekend, but with the performance of Coley and Mercier, he knows the challenge is coming.
In 400 Class the battle between points-leader Damian O’Leary and former 350 Class champion Mark Garlick saw the two separated by mere tenths during early qualifying, although both were forced to play second-fiddle to Garlick’s long-time rival Brooke Lucas who set a stunning pace in Q1 to be more than a second and a half up on the field.
Sadly Lucas was eliminated after the first final with an emerging mechanical issue, the Queenslander talking the safe option and retiring, leaving Garlick and O’Leary to take their fight into the final, ‘Grumpy’ emerging victorious once again to move into the points lead alongside South Australian O’Leary.
Whilst the title contender’s celebrated, arguably the most popular result was that of V8 Superboat stalwart Kevin Laugesen, the series veteran having one of his best seasons in the sport to claim a well-deserved third.
Like the Unlimited class, 400s weren’t without their own action, with the new Kanaris Engines team of Mark Seddon and navi Mitch Scott coming to grief in their former Brooke Avenell boat, the series debutantes flipping the boat upside down into the channel whilst Seddon was on an impressive run in the final qualifier.
The driver was quickly out of the boat, but again the crowd sat silent waiting for Scott’s appearance, the two crew ultimately unharmed, but suffering a baptism that neither of them hope to experience any time again in the future.
And in 350 Class, reigning 400 Class champion Jake Garlick was too good for Victorian Ben Hathaway, taking ‘Evil As’ to his second round win in as many races to lead the points heading into Temora for round five.
The penultimate round of the season will be held on October 24 at Lake Centenary in Temora (NSW) where teams will support SIDS and some very special fans.
Recently, Temora’s Lee Bell lost her grandson Jesse to SIDS, and in response she and her family have been raising money and awareness for SIDS. In honour of Jesse Bell, the V8 Superboat competitors will race in his memory in an effort to boost the awareness of SIDS, and compete in Round 5 of the Australian V8 Superboats Championship presented by SIDS. Competitors, crew and family we be urged to wear a red nose in memory of Jesse, even though 26 June is the official annual ‘Red Nose Day’.
Rnd#4 2015 Australian Superboat Championships
Tweed Coast Jetsprint Club, Cabarita Beach, NSW
1. Phonsy Mullan/Kelsie Gill (RAMJET) - 41.748
2. Rob Coley/Kellie Minnell (Poison Ivy) - 41.822
3. Greg Mercier/Dorinda Mercier (ACOL Racing) - DNF
400 Class (Group A)
1. Mark Garlick/Jamie Anderson (Grumpy) - 45.740
2. Damian O'Leary/Grace Smith (Kryptonite) - 46.010
3. Kevin Laugesen/Tim Stein (SpaNet) - 51.084
1. Jake Garlick/Peta Dary (Evil As) - 50.360
2. Ben Hathaway/Lisa Oppes (Allcott Transformer) - 53.722
TOP 6 FINAL
1. Rob Coley/Kellie Minnell (Poison Ivy) - 41.710
2. Greg Mercier/Dorinda Mercier (ACOL Racing) - 42.182
3. Phonsy Mullan/Kelsie Gill (RAMJET) - 42.360
4. Daryl Hutton/Matthew Gow (Total Lubricants) - 42.564
5. Jamie Welch/Simone Craige (Natwel Racing) - 44.647
6. Mick Carroll/Bridey McNeven (Excalibur) - 44.734
400 Class (Group A)
1. Mark Garlick/Jamie Anderson (Grumpy) - 45.798
2. Damian O'Leary/Grace Smith (Kryptonite) - 46.761
3. Kevin Laugesen/Tim Stein (SpaNet) - 50.911
4. Brett Thornton/Lin Thornton (Obsession) - 52.505
5. Brad Marsden/Melinda McMullen (Allcott Transformer) - 54.550
6. Brooke Lucas/Kianna Lucas (Trouble Maker) - NTR
2015 Australian V8 Superboat Championships - Series points
Unlimited Superboat (after round four of six)
1. Phonsy Mullan (RAMJET) - 144 points, 2. Ted Sygidus (Frankenstein) - 99, 3. Jamie Welch (Natwel Racing) - 98, 4. Greg Mercier (ACOL Racing) - 94, 5. Daryl Hutton (Total Lubricants) - 89, 6. Rob Coley (Poison Ivy) - 81, 7. Tremayne Jukes (JRE Engines) - 79, 8. Darek Sygidus (Frankenstein) - 76, 9. Brooke Avenell (Hi-Tec Oils) - 74, 10. Paul Burgess (Daly Transport) - 70, 11. Cheryl Welch (Natwel Racing) - 68, 12. Mick Carroll (Excalibur) - 44, 13. Daniel deVoigt (Q-BEARS) - 42, 14. Paul Gaston (Frankenstein Jnr) - 36, 15. Tony Giustozzi (Excalibur) - 24, 16. Louise Dixon (Hi-Tec Oils) - 34, 17. Phil Dixon (Hi-Tec Oils) - 10.
400-Class (Group A) (after round four of six)
1. Damian O’Leary (Kryptonite) - 132 points, 1. Mark Garlick (Grumpy) - 132, 3. Kevin Laugesen (spanet) - 100, 4. Brad Marsden (Allcott Transformer) - 96, 5. Brooke Lucas (Trouble Maker) – 90, 6. Greg Harriman (Pangaea Floors) - 80, 7. Brett Thornton (Obsession) - 70, 8. Peter Monger (Mongrel) - 66, 9. Jesse Watkins (Kanaris Engines) - 58, 10. Paul Kelly (Anaconda) - 50, 11. Dave Moody (Jackhammer) - 28, 12. Mark Seddon (18)
350-Class (after round four of six)
1. Jake Garlick (Evil As) - 105, 2. Ben Hathaway (Allcott Transformer) - 102
2015 Australian Superboat Championships
Rnd#1 - 7 March, Temora (NSW)
Rnd#2/3 - 23-24 May, Tweed Coast (NSW)
Rnd#4 - 8-9 August, Tweed Coast (NSW)
Rnd#5 - 24 October, Temora (NSW)
Rnd#6 - 21-22 November, Tweed Coast (NSW)
For more information on the 2015 Australian V8 Superboat Championships, please visit www.v8superboats.com.au
Photos: Russell Puckeridge - Pureart Creative Images