Caughey opens SuperBoat lead at Meremere

Peter Caughey and navigator Karen Marshall on the charge (boat photos Ian Thornton)

Peter Caughey and navigator Karen Marshall on the charge (boat photos Ian Thornton)

After an incident-packed round three of the NZ SuperBoat champs at Meremere, Canterbury racer Peter Caughey has opened a lead over the rest of the pack.

With defending champion Leighton Minnell retiring with a blown engine, Wanganui’s Pat Dillon crashing after crossing the line in the final qualifier only to get his boat fit to race into the finals, and a spoiler in the shape of Australian SuperBoat champion Greg Mercier in the mix but not scoring points, the event became a real nail-biter.

Especially with Caughey’s boat now “scarily fast. We just about get the shakes when we get out, but there’s still more performance there.”

This Sprintec boat certainly sounds like an animal – launching into the start with the deep-throated roar of a charging tiger; all testosterone-addled aggression from a 9.4-litre, 1100hp engine in a 500kg jetboat with no brakes, and charging at speeds of 130kph or more down narrow channels often little more than knee-deep in water, changing with each rotation as earlier racers clipped islands and the 30-degree temperatures dropped the water ever lower.

“When we got the track rotation all the competitors thought it looked blindingly fast, but when you arrive and see how narrow some channels are, and spot the little chicanes that don’t show up on a stylised course map… let’s just say we were all very busy out there. In fact Greg ‘Crusty’ Mercier, the Aussie champ, told me it’s the hardest rotation he’s raced in 18 to 20 years of jetsprinting, but he loved it.”

Those bends put stress on the body, “We were consistently pulling 4g to 5g on many corners and peaking at 8g on some, and that saps energy from you for sure, and it’s very hard on the boat, screaming into the corners and smoking out. Yep, this was a fantastic track and if Meremere holds its hand up for a round of the world champs it’ll get my vote.”

Heading into the elimination rounds it hit 30 degrees under Caughey’s shelter and 30 per cent humidity as racers dropped out, thrown when they hit a wake or clipped an island or, like Minnell who entered the round in second overall, succumbing to mechanical glitches.

Peter Caughey and navigator Karen Marshall on the charge (boat photos Ian Thornton)

Peter Caughey and navigator Karen Marshall on the charge (boat photos Ian Thornton)

By the final four it was Stevens, Mercier, Dillon and Caughey to the wire. Stevens had a lumpy ride that nearly spat him onto the islands for a slow 65.77 seconds. Pat Dillon cleared a smooth round with 55.49, ahead of Mercier – who clipped an island for 57.65 (and not scoring in the NZ champs tally) before Caughey set a blinder, to take the chequered flag in a staggering 54.27 seconds.

That’s quite something from a racer still working on a new craft. “This the first event we’ve done with both driver and navigator confident in the boat, we’ve been making progress all the time and know we can get the Sprintec boat into the sweet spot where it’s predictable and you can fine-tune it for that last bit of performance.”

“It’s much more enjoyable to race but it can be a handful – shimmying down the back straight as the boat tries to take control; you have to be firm with it!”

High points for Caughey? “Seeing Garry Stevens from Rapidjet in Taupo, a newbie racing his first full season in jetsprinting.”

“Seeing Wanganui’s Pat Dillon put on such fast lap times after persevering with that supercharged hulk of a boat – he scared himself senseless by all accounts.”

“Seeing such a great crowd from sponsors ENZED and Trojan, who got right behind us on the day, dropping into the pits with encouragement, cheering us on and adding to the buzz. And Trojan’s $500 cheque for fastest qualifier, for the winner, and for three random spectators just added spice to the day.”

“And getting a presentation in the morning for the support I’ve given to the sport and its corporate side. It was fantastic to feel so appreciated, it was totally unexpected, really cool. One of those presentations I’ll really treasure.”

“It’s just a shame defending champion Leighton Minnell had to retire after his engine dropped a valve and damaged a piston. I’m hoping he’ll find some parts and be ready to race by round four, at Hastings.”

Meantime his retirement today opens up the champs from second place downwards, “there’ll be a few racers with their tails up, sensing an opportunity.”

It’s an opportunity Caughey will hope to close when the boats take to the water for round four, in Hastings on March 3.

Caughey and Marshall celebrate their win (photo Jacqui Madelin)

Caughey and Marshall celebrate their win (photo Jacqui Madelin)

Provisional result, top four at round three

1 Peter Caughey – Canterbury – 30 points
2 Pat Dillon – 29 points
3 Garry Stephen – 28 points
4 Ray Ferguson – 26 points

Provisional results, top five overall after three rounds

1 Peter Caughey – 89 points
2 Leighton Minnell – 81 points
3 Pat Dillon 77 points
4= Garry Stephen 72 points
4= Ray Ferguson 72 points

2013 Jetsprint calendar

Round 4, March 3, 2013 – Hastings
Round 5, March 30, 2013 – Wanaka
Round 6, April 13, 2013 – Wanganui