It was perhaps no surprise that fans had to wait until the dying stages of the 2017 Australian V8 Superboat Championships to witness the crowing of a new champion, with the 400-Class settled on the final run of the day for Victoria’s Ben Hathaway, the ‘Weapon’ driver forced to dig deep in his final lap to claim a win when nothing else counted, taking the top step by just four one hundredths of a second, and with it, season victory.
In the Unlimited class, five-time national champion and reigning title-holder Phonsy Mullan needed only start the final event to claim an unprecedented fifth-consecutive Unlimited title, but that didn’t stop him going after a third season victory, although the man he defeated for the title had his own agenda.. From the outset Tremayne Jukes kept the big Cabarita crowd on their feet as he and Mullan went head-to-head all the way to the final, Jukes ultimately hanging on to claim his fourth win of the year and second in the championship.
Whilst the ‘big boys’ attracted the bulk of the crowd’s attention, in the newly formed LS Class, a great battle ensued all weekend between points-leader Ivan Safranek, and newcomers Dave Bray and Darrin Kesper. In the end Bray won his first ever event, but for Safranek - who suffered a DNF in the final - he had amassed enough points across the season to claim his maiden V8 Superboat title.
Campaigning the regular two-day Cabarita format, teams were able to make a relatively relaxed start to their finals campaign with a late start on Saturday ahead of the first two qualifying sessions, something which on paper sounded like the prefect recipe to settle into a rhythm but clearly there were a few ‘rusty’ drivers in the field with nine teams failing to record a time in Q1..
Not surprisingly, the top of the timesheets was dominated by the very same teams who had set the pace for much of the season, whilst in the Unlimited class, the battle for top spot was on again in earnest with newly crowned champion Phonsy Mullan and ‘Maniac’ pilot Tremayne Jukes going toe-to-toe, the pair separated by half a second in the first two qualifiers, advantage Mullan in Q1, Jukes returning the favour in Q2 - the scene was set for a cracking weekend!
In the 400-Class it was all Ben Hathaway, the Victorian laying the foundations for his title assault knowing he needed to make up a five point deficit on reigning title holder Brett Thornton, going out hard had been his strategy all season, and he wasn’t about to let up and go for a cautious run this time around, his first two qualifiers comfortably clear of the rest of the field, with Jody Ely continuing his strong late-season form to be second quickest.
Sunday morning dawned with near perfect conditions, and the first qualifier of the day saw a sequence of almost perfect runs, in fact in the end, the only one of the 26 teams to fail to record a time was Ben Hathaway who was unable to make the circuit after a fuel switch was inadvertently turned off as the team prepared to put the boat on the water, fortunately without any residual issues.
Up front in the Unlimited class, the season-long battle between Mullan and Jukes continued, the pair see-sawing their way through the remaining qualifiers with little separating them - in fact across the three early sessions, the pair were no more than half a second apart, Jukes the more consistent with three laps separated by just 13 one hundredths of a second!
In the end though it was Mullan who ended qualifying quickest with a blistering 46.553 to Jukes’ best of 46.676.. it was close, and far too close to call..
Of their rivals, round four winner Tony Giustozzi was again the standout although two seconds down on the battle for the top of the leaderboard, he, team-mate Mick Carroll and former champion Daryl Hutton at that stage - the only other teams to record a sub 50-second lap.
There were again some standout performances across qualifying, notably former 350-Class champions Daniel de Voigt (DEVO Racing) and Glenn ‘Spider’ Roberts (Blown Budget), who alongside Scott Krause (Soak’n Fused) were just off the tail of the top five and threatening to make their way into the second final.
Sadly whilst there were some solid performances in the Unlimited class, we were again robbed of an appearance from Jamie Welch in the Natwel Racing machine, the West Australian was forced to spectate after finding an oil-vacuum issue that saw the team elect to park the boat to avoid any serious damage - Cabarita considered just an extended test session ahead of a full 2018 assault.
The Unlimited class might have had the big Cabarita crowd on their feet, but the 400-Class title battle was no less enthralling and no less attractive to those that made their way to the Tweed Coast Jet Sprint Club for the final round of the season and the title contenders did their best to keep them entertained.
Ben Hathaway’s failure to start Q3 opened the door for his rivals to make ground, and make ground they did, 2016 Rookie-of-the-Year Mitch Roylance - in his first drive for season 2017 - grabbed the top spot to signal his intention to take the round win, before Brett Thornton set the fastest time of the weekend (50.473) in 400s for Q4 to become the top qualifier.
Hathaway and ‘Weapon’ ultimately claimed the quickest time in the final session, but he was almost two tenths slower than Thornton’s Q4 best, whilst Jody Ely in ‘Rampage’ also made it inside the 51s, just clear of Mitch Roylance (BlackJack), Mark Garlick (Grumpy) and Paul Kelly (4Zero Racing).
Just off the tail of the lead pack, Spitwater Team Outlaw’s Justin Roylance was having another consistent run with his new JRE prepared machine, although admitting he was still struggling with props capable of dealing with the performance of the engine, something which time hadn’t allowed him to rectify ahead of the season final. Still, his battles with Greg Harriman (Pink Boots Foundation) and brother Mitch were highlights across the weekend, however the former drag racer admitted with much frustration, that spending much of the season testing his new package did not suit his desire to race with the leaders, although it did provide the team a solid foundation for the 2018 season.
With another title on the line in the new LS-Class, Ivan Safranek too was looking to go out on a high, taking ‘Katana’ to the top spot in qualifying, his 58.015 more than four seconds clear of Dave Bray in ‘Bare Necessities’ with Darrin Kesper continuing to improve in ‘DUG’.
The 2017 Unlimited Superboat title may have been out of play, but you could sense that neither title holder Phonsy Mullan nor 2017 rival Tremayne Jukes was willing to concede the win, the pair going out hard across all three finals, the top three final ultimately forcing the fastest time of the event..
Sadly the Top 12 saw the demise of Daryl Hutton with a rollover coming out of the opening turn, the two-time Australian champion pushing hard in typical ‘Nutsy’ fashion in an effort to make his way into the top three. Sadly it back-fired, although the exit was - as ever - spectacular..
Mick Carroll was the next to go, an electrical issue ultimately sidelining him, the ‘Excalibur’ team turning their attention to Giustozzi who was threatening a challenge on the leaders, but sadly that also came up short after a navigational error in the Top 6 saw him drop down the order and out of an almost certain podium finish.
Paul Burgess also failed to make the Top 6 after another solid run, but he was rewarded a seventh-placed championship finish, just missing out on a top six position after a late charge by Glenn Roberts who himself turned in a blistering time in the second final just a second and a half slower than the pace-setting points leaders.
A 46.729 gave Jukes the top spot in the first final, with a 46.623 keeping him there in the Top 6, Mullan in the second final just 17 one hundredths slower with Roberts becoming the third driver to make it into the final dropping Giustozzi and local favourite Daniel de Voigt out of the last rotation of the season, de Voigt though not too disappointed after recording his best result of the season.
As fastest driver in the Top 6, Jukes elected to run last in the final and Mullan was intent on making him work for the win, setting an impressive 46.679 in his run.. Jukes was last out, and determined to end the season on a high, he pushed hard, crossing the line with the fastest time of the weekend, 46.523, a time just three one hundredths faster than Mullan’s pace-setting time from Q4.. it was THAT close!
As an indication of how consistent Jukes had been across Sunday’s six runs, all six laps were separated by just 27 one hundredths of a second.. with the margin of victory 15 one hundredths..
Glenn Roberts may have finished third, but it was just reward for an impressive season, and proved a popular result amongst fans and teams, the Victorian’s final time not his best, but he was also lucky to make the final after a technical issue with the boat in the Top 6.
With the Unlimited final sorted, the focus turned to the 400-Class where the title looked certain to come down to the final run, but whilst the title contenders were keeping an eye on one another, a dark horse was looming in the shape of 4Zero Racing’s Paul Kelly.
Between qualifying and the finals, Kelly’s team found the sweet spot in the 4Zero machine, his Top 12 time stopping everyone in their tracks, the title contenders included with the Queenslander finding almost a second and a half to top the timesheets (50.189) ahead of Hathaway, Ely, Mitch Roylance and Garlick.
He did it again in the second final, going just six one hundredths faster, but still no-one could stay with him, Hathaway the next best with a 50.7.
For reigning champion Brett Thornton, a setback in the Top 12 saw the ‘2Obsessed’ driver languishing back in sixth position and needing to find something special in the second final to keep his championship lead alive. He did it too, a 50.8 keeping him within a tenth of Hathaway with just one run remaining.
The Top 6 final had been a real indication of just how competitive the 400-Class field had become in season 2017, with all six boats separated by just over a second, the difference between third and fifth.. 15 one hundredths of a second.. a blink, and that’s all it took, a blink which eliminated Mitch Roylance, Mark Garlick and Jody Ely..
As fastest driver in the second final, Paul Kelly had the choice of when he would conduct his run, but unlike the Unlimited teams, he elected to go first and lay down a time for the others to chase. His lap again was stunning.. 50.217 - his three finals laps just 85 one thousandths apart..! Brett Thornton was next, the 2016 #1 needed a solid lap to ensure he finished second, or at worst, third behind Hathaway with Kelly taking the win.. The lap was good - 50.901 - not his fastest of the day, but good enough to put the pressure on his title rival.
Backing off the trailer, Ben Hathaway knew he had only one choice. Ahead of that final run he’d made a series of changes to the boat, admitting he’d either win it, or bin it.. He had to go out hard. His only chance of championship victory was to beat Kelly’s time which was faster than he’d been all day.
The crowd were on their feet and there was silence around the course as he delivered one final lap. It was clear he was committed, running deep into the corners and cutting as many banks as he dared as he went searching for hundredths of a second. As he crossed the line, the timing board flashed the time.. 50.177.. faster than he’d been all day, but vitally, four one hundredths of a second faster than Kelly, and with that, he became the 2017 400-Class champion by a single point over Brett Thornton.
What a season it had been..
Whilst the Unlimited Superboat and 400-Class teams provided the fans with plenty of entertainment, and championships that came down to the final round, the LS-Class win was locked in much earlier in the season, after Ivan Safranek’s consistency and speed gave him the Australian Championship crown in ‘Katana’. Sadly he wasn’t able to cap off the season with another win despite setting the pace all weekend, an off in the final keeping him off the podium, allowing David Bray in ‘Bare Necessities’ through for his maiden victory.
With the 2017 season at it’s conclusion, focus now turns to 2018 with the release of next year’s calendar, a calendar which will include the UIM World Championships at seasons end, a two-round programme shared between Keith in South Australia, and the Tweed Coast Jetsprint Club.
2018 Australian V8 Superboats calendar
Rnd#1 Griffith, NSW - 24 February - (day/night)
Rnd#2 Keith, SA - 24 March
Rnd#3 Temora, NSW - 28 April (day/night) - Colin Parish Memorial Trophy
Rnd#4 Tweed Coast, NSW - 2-3 June
Rnd#5 Tweed Coast, NSW - 17-18 August
Rnd#6 [FINAL] Temora, NSW - 22 September – (day/night)
UIM World Series - Rnd#1 Keith, SA - 27-28 October
UIM World Series - Rnd#2 Tweed Coast, NSW - 3-4 November
Rnd#7 2017 Australian V8 Superboat Championships
Round Mountain Raceway, Cabarita Beach (28-29 October, 2017)
1. Tremayne Jukes (Maniac) - 46.523
2. Phonsy Mullan (RAMJET) - 46.679
3. Glenn Roberts (Blown Budget) - 49.195
400-Class (Group A)
1. Ben Hathaway (Weapon) - 50.177
2. Paul Kelly (4Zero Racing) - 50.217
3. Brett Thornton (2Obsessed) - 50.901
1. Dave Bray (Bare Necessities) - 61.315
2. Darrin Kesper (DUG) - 82.852
3. Ivan Safranek (Katana) - DNF
TOP 6 FINAL
1. Tremayne Jukes (Maniac) - 46.623
2. Phonsy Mullan (RAMJET) - 46.791
3. Glenn Roberts (Blown Budget) - 48.394
4. Daniel de Voigt (Devo Racing) - 50.513
5. Scott Krause (Soak’n Fused) - 51.412
6. Tony Giustozzi (Excalibur) 53.594
400-Class (Group A)
1. Paul Kelly (4Zero Racing) - 50.132
2. Ben Hathaway (Weapon) - 50.738
3. Brett Thornton (2Obsessed) - 50.857
4. Jody Ely (Rampage) - 51.007
5. Mitch Roylance (BlackJack) - 51.013
6. Mark Garlick (Grumpy) - 51.575
2017 Australian V8 Superboat Championships - Series points
Unlimited Superboat (adjusted points after round seven of seven)
1. Phonsy Mullan (RAMJET) - 214-points, 2. Tremayne Jukes (Maniac) - 211, 3. Mick Carroll (Excalibur) - 162, 4. Daryl Hutton (Victorian American Imports) - 159, 5. Tony Giustozzi (Excalibur) - 156, 6. Glenn Roberts (Blown Budget) - 154, 7. Paul Burgess (Daly Transport) - 152, 8. Ted Sygidus (Frankensztain) - 136, 9. Daniel deVoigt (DEVO Racing) - 134, 10. Darek Sygidus (Frankensztain) - 122, 11. Scott Krause (Soak’n Fused) - 70, 12. Jeremy Kincaid (Rogue) - 58, 13. Jamie Welch (32), 14. Cheryl Welch (30), 15. Aaron Hansen (Blown Budget) - 26
400-Class (Group A) (after round seven of seven)
1. Ben Hathaway (Weapon) - 206-points, 2. Brett Thornton (2Obsessed) - 205, 3. Mark Garlick (Grumpy) - 193, 4. Jody Ely (Rampage) - 187, 5. Paul Kelly (4Zero Racing) - 177, 6. Justin Roylance (Spitwater Team Outlaw) - 159, 7. Brad Marsden (Allcott Transformer) - 146, 8. Greg Harriman (Pink Boots Foundation) - 144, 9. Hugh Gilchrist (Pink Boots Foundation) - 118, 10. Ivan Safranek (64), 11. Clint Ruby (Dirty Deeds) - 46
LS-Class (after round seven of seven)
1. Ivan Safranek (Katana) - 144-points, 2. Kyle Reynolds (RedRum) - 63, 3. Graham Reynolds (RedRum) - 43