“The View from Region 1”
Offshore pwc racing has increased phenomenally in 1996. The reasons are too numerous to detail in this document. While there is great interest among new competitors, there is little information about the courses and what machinery and performance equipment works best on those courses.
While closed course racing has specific models that are “the” boat to race in any given class, no one machine has yet shown itself to be “the” boat for offshore competition. Part of the reason for this is the broad variations in course layouts and racing conditions. While IJSBA Region 1 is by no means the epicenter of offshore racing…it sure has been active.
In this document we will outline what we observe to be the “perimeters” of offshore racing, and how competitive the various machines have shown themselves to be within those perimeters.
THE WATER CONDITIONS – Region 1 racing was shown us what we consider to be the four different water conditions. Each set of conditions yields a competitive advantage to a different group of machines.
Smooth Water – Anything from pure glass to 6 inch wind ripple qualifies as smooth water. It’s the fastest, and least common water. Only seen at sunrise lake events, river events and first laps.
Short Chop – Close peaks of 6″ – 12″, usually found on small lake and river events.
Rough Water – 3 to 4 foot peaks. Just barely too close to double or triple jump. You just have to crash through each wave. This is the most punishing water for rider and machine.
Big Water – Ocean or big lake water with 6 foot and larger swells. Though risky, the swells can be double jumped at high speed. These are very “humbling” water conditions. Racing in this water will cause you to give away all your “no fear” shirts.
Add to this the different styles of events that have evolved:
Closed Course – A large 15-20 buoy course (about 2 – 3 miles) that can be completely viewed from the shore line. Usually a timed event (60-90 minutes plus one lap)
Large Loop Course – A large 6-10 mile course with 4-6 course markers (markers are usually a small island or a course marshal boat).
Destination Courses – Point A to point B courses of 20-40 miles, usually to an island or a designated up river point.
Like every where else, in Region 1, the focus of attention is on the overall win…and the open pro racers capable of taking it. Like everyone else, we figured that every event could be won overall with huge doses of sheer horsepower and peak water speed. As most pro offshore racers learned…this was seldom the case. This document will try to outline the various “overall contender” boat makes, and their most successful riders.
WHAT IS FAST? – While each region 1 event yielded only one overall winner, the post race awards dinner would always yield numerous “story tellers” explaining how they “where the fastest boat on the course” or “cut the fastest lap of the day”. We believe that these folks are entitled to their stories and their dilution, but being the fastest is no dilution. The fastest boat is “always” the one that visibly drives off and leaves everyone else. The fastest laps of the day belong to the overall winner…period. If your not one of those two people…you were not the fastest. While many region 1 competitors deserve recognition of one kind or another…this document will focus on the “fastest” competitors and their machinery.
THE WINNING STRATEGIES – As the region 1 pro field took shape, it was clear that there were two different successful overall win strategies. It was essentially the race of the tortoise and the hare. The methodical and conservative pace that would consistently finish, and the fast as hell/try not to break strategy.
Most of the sponsored racers took the fast as hell approach. This approach is very abusive to the machine and the rider. Among the biggest problem for these riders was “stepping off” at high speeds in rough water. Besides the “roughing up” they endure tumbling to a stop, the time loss involved with “swimming down” the boat is considerable. (Prospective offshore racers should try swimming a couple of laps in a pool wearing a helmet, wetsuit, vest, and booties…it is work). As a result of this tiring swim, many of the “fast as hell” riders also adopted a “don’t let go no matter what” policy. Watching one of these riders in action is truly something to behold. If nothing else, most other riders will give them a wide berth.
The other end of the spectrum were the racers who planed to race at a pace that minimized abuse to the machine and the rider. They carefully planed short and efficient fuel stops. They prepared machines that were bulletproof first…and fast second. The engine compartments were tidy and simple… no “sci-fi” horsepower gadgets.
THE MACHINES AND THE RIDERS
Right from the get go, anyone who was serious about taking an overall win assumed that they would need the 1100 Yamaha motor to do it. For the most part, they were right.
YAMAHA, The Players – Billy Womack/Yamaha-Bellflower Yam (the most physically fit rider in region 1), Mark Dobson/ Yamaha-Group K (the water speed king), John Stevens/ Yamaha Research (a top rider with “Unobtainium” machinery), Darrin Crimson/ Yamaha Research (same as Stevens). These riders made up the early lead pack of nearly every region 1 event, and raced at a pace that was out of reach of the other competitors.
All four of these riders started out with stock Raider hulls that were very fast in the smooth, and very scary in the high speed rough. As the event courses became rougher and rougher, Stevens and Crimson switched to carbon fiber race hulls that were far superior in the rough water (but noticeably slower in the smooth). Their success moved Womack to get one of the hulls also. Dobson chose to keep his peak speed, and try to endure the rough water punishment that would come with it. In time, all the carbon hulls were abandoned. Ironically, the stock hulls could flex slightly (and survive) during the prolonged high speed pounding…the ridged carbon hulls fractured…a lot.
During this time, the pounding was taking it’s toll on other components as well. The first significant problem was the random failure of cdi boxes. At first we thought that the unique vibrations or heavy loads of the Big Bore Sleeper top ends (all four riders had one) were to blame. However, we observed that even machines with stock engines were having this re-occurring problem. At some events, all four pro riders (and a fleet of others) were failing cdi boxes. The folks at Yamaha said that excessive vibration was the culprit for the failures. They offered a bracket that connected the top of the electrical box to the front of the cylinder head. Some 1100 owners used the bracket with good results. After the 3rd time failing a cdi while in the overall lead, Dobson decided to mount his cdi box to the vibration free gas tank. It never failed again…but the points championship had been given away by then.
The heavy workload at Yamaha Research caused Stevens and Crimson stop mid season. For several events after that, Dobson and Womack battled in uncommonly rough water, riding way over their heads. The one with the fewest swim downs would win…usually Womack. This went on until a few lesser experienced riders were starting to match their rough water pace on mildly modified Venture 1100s. Shortly thereafter, Womack abandoned his Raider hull for a Venture. Dobson remains ever hopeful that smooth water events will still surface. If they do, Womack’s Venture will be at least 5 mph short. If they don’t, Dobson will be helpless against the Womack Venture in the rough water events.
KAWASAKI, The Players – Tim Dixon/Factory Kawasaki, Walt Cadman & Dan Gunther/ Kawasaki-Group K
In the first races of ’96 Tim Dixon (a Kawasaki Team mechanic) ran variations of Victor Sheldon’s carbon fiber closed course race boat. This machine was rocket ship fast (apable of 70 mph), however it was not totally reliable in such long events. After only a couple of events, Tim chose to do the rest of his endurance testing in private.
This left Walt Cadman, and his team race partner Dan Gunther, to carry the Kawasaki colors. Walt was the most successful open class rider in 1995 on his ZXi 900. Walt had meticulously tuned this machine (equipped with a Group K Sleeper kit) to run 62 mph…forever. He is the premier example of a successful strategy racer. His boat is fast enough to stay on the lead lap, his fuel stops are swift and flawless, and his pace is moderate yet relentless. Walt has won more overalls victories than any other rider in 1996 by just “being there”. As of this writing he is the overall points leader. When the “fast as hell” Yamaha riders “go swimming”, they swim fast because they know Walt is not far behind. Remember all those failed 1100 Raider cdi boxes…when they failed, Walt was there. For a while, Walt claimed that his biggest competitive edge was an ignition without a Yamaha cdi box (that was funny til they fixed the problem).
Walt’s 1100 did not arrive until the first few races of ’96 were already done. We immediately prototyped a Sleeper it on his 1100 that brought it up to the speed of his well refined 900. We had hoped for 65+ mph to run with the Yamahas…but this ZXi 1100 never got there. As important as the issue of mph was the issue of fuel consumption. The stock ZXi 1100 was bad on gas, but the modified one was horrible. Since Walt often won races “in the pits”, a gas hog was not acceptable. We ended up boring the stock carbs and eliminating the, fuel wasting, acceleration pumps. These carbs required considerable re-jetting, however they solved our acceleration and gas guzzling problems in one fell swoop.
Walt also had a carbon fiber hull built. It was light and nimble, it handled great, and it broke…repeatedly. Fortunately most of the problems with the carbon boat took place during testing, not racing. Eventually the stock hull boat became the reliable workhorse. One of the significant modifications made to this stock hull was the removal of the front splash chine. When this chine hits a wave at 60+ mph, it feels like a front brake is being applied…hard. Walt figured that after removing this chine, the hull thickness would still be safe in that area…wrong. The hull required significant glass work from within the hull to regain it’s integrity. However all this hassling is one of the reasons that Walt’s 1100 has never experienced the “high speed instability” referred to in a Kawasaki summer ’96 recall letter.
SEA DOO, The Players – John Ford/Top Performance Watercraft.
Taking an overall victory on a 785 machine is a tall order. Before the IJSBA tour began, Chris Fischetti ran our first Sea Doo XP Sleeper prototype at an Ensanada ocean event attended by all the big bores. He missed the overall victory by running out of gas 200 yards from the checker flag. He learned, as many Sea Doo owners now know, the short Sea Doo fuel pick up tubes will run you out of gas with 1 1/2 gallons of fuel still in the tank.
As of this writing, Jon Ford, on a basically stock GSX, is the only 785 class rider to take an overall. John dominated 785 competition in 1995 on his XP. Despite the fact that he is a very fit and skilled rider, racing an XP against 65+ mph triples in rough water is not do-able for anyone. John earned his overall win at one of the roughest Long Beach ocean races that anyone could remember. The rough water did away with Womack and Dobson on their Raiders. While water this rough will not be common at offshore events nationwide, we expect that intelligently modified GSXs will become strong overall contenders in the near future. They offer a very “survivable ” high speed rough water ride.
An honorable mention should go to the young rider on a Watercraft Magic Big Bore GSX. The boat is very fast, but the young rider is regularly spit off the boat in the early stages of his events. If he could “mature” his big water habits, he could be an easy overall contender. On the smooth water…the fast Raiders eat him alive.
POLARIS – While there have been plenty of Polaris’s in the 785 field, the first serious open class efforts were made in late summer by a lone 1100 SLTX. While this machine has cut some very impressive laps (at a pace that easily matches the top Raiders)…the SLTX appears to not quite ready for prime time. 1997 will likely be better.
THE BEST BETS FOR 1997 – Since the fastest growing (and best selling) segment of the pwc business is 3 seaters, we expect that all the manufacturers will be offering the bigger boats with bigger motors. Yamaha is rumored to have a better (rough water) handling Raider with an increase in horsepower (and or displacement). Kawasaki is rumored to release a 3 seater version of their 1100. Sea Doo is rumored to have a larger displacement twin. If so, that motor may also make it into the 3 seater hull. Polaris already has the boat to do the job…they simply need to show the interest.
Whatever the manufacturers release for 1997, the fashion for offshore overall contenders will clearly be “muscular brutes riding huge hulls with gobs of horsepower”. Like it or not, overall contenders will need to embrace this concept. There will always be those few events where a Sea Doo XP may win a very rough, closed course, event, or a ’96 1100 Big Bore Raider will run away on an unexpected “glass” large loop. However those will be the exceptions. Most events will be held at sites where rough water is the norm. The riders that win the overalls in ’97 will need to be physically fit above all other things. They will need a 3 seater hull, or an exceptionally good “rough water” runabout hull. Stock engines will not be overall winners…no matter how fit you are. Offshore racing does not require the expensive and exotic equipment that is used at IJSBA tour events. However in region 1, open class pro racing is currently a “race gas” class. Pump gas compatible machines will seldom be contenders. It also bears noting that in 1997, the new Super Stock class will be the highest level of modification allowed in offshore (and local level closed course for that matter). That means no stroker cranks, no total loss ignitions, no aftermarket cylinders, and most importantly…no carbon hulls.
Offshore racing showcases the high performance reliability that the manufacturers want to promote. Racers can choose a competitive edge of fitness, horsepower, or logistics. Mastering any one is enough to put you in contention. We, at Group K think that this diversity is what will continue to make offshore racing the fastest growing segment of pwc competition.