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Large, fast field set for HAPO Columbia Cup | Hydros
For the Reporter
Dave Villwock return to the H1 Unlimited Hydroplane Series and Erick Ellstrom's debut of the U-96 Spirit of Qatar are two reasons why the 13-boat HAPO Columbia Cup in the Tri-Cities this weekend will be big, fast and furious.
Villwock, formerly of Auburn who now makes his home in Monroe, retired following the 2012 season with 67 career victories – the most by any driver in the history of the sport. He joined Schumacher Racing as a consultant and became team manager during the 2013 season.
On July 16, team owner Billy Schumacher announced that Villwock would be the team's driver for the Tri-Cities and Seattle races, adding, "People asked me, "You have the best driver in the history of the sport on your team and he doesn't drive the boat? What's wrong with this picture?"
Following last season, Villwock oversaw an extensive rebuild of Schumacher's U-37 Beacon Plumbing and says, "We are pretty confident in the changes we made but it will need some adjusting. We learned about propellers last season. It should be a safer, more stable ride and that should equate to more speed."
The team's game plan for the Columbia Cup is to get the boat setup dialed in before the sponsor's hometown race in Seattle – The Albert Lee Cup at Seafair on Aug. 1-3. They will be testing four new propellers and two new turbine engines from associate sponsor Whispering Turbines.
At Ellstrom Racing, former Oberto crew chief Mike Hanson heads up the team putting the finishing touches on the new Spirit of Qatar that will make its maiden voyage Friday morning with Kip Brown at the wheel.
"This thing is awesome. Mike Hanson's craftsmanship is just spectacular," Brown said. "It really is the state-of-the-art race boat Erick said it would be."
Ellstrom has said the new technology in the boat will not be obvious and many little things have been done that should combine to make a big difference.
Brown concurs, saying, "Most of the changes are pretty subtle. There are some things you can see in the running surfaces and a few other places that are new technology but the boat won't look much different on the water."
Brown won the 2013 Gold Cup in the U-95 Spirit of Qatar owned by Our Gang Racing of Prestonn. That team represented the Qatar sponsorship while the new 96 was being constructed. OGR is back to their 17 number and will make their 2014 debut at the Columbia Cup with Jeff Bernard driving.
Other teams prepare
Two other teams will join the series in the third race of the season after skipping the Eastern swing. They are Leland Unlimited's U-100 driven by Dave Warren and Kelly Stocklin's U-18 Bucket List Racing.
Stocklin's boat is a former G boat, slightly smaller than the other unlimiteds and designed to run with automotive power. In 2012, Stocklin secured a waiver from H1 to run the smaller boat with a smaller turbine engine and qualified it as an unlimited at the Tri-Cities race on the Columbia River.
The five teams seeing competition for the first time in 2014 will be joining a fleet that showed tremendous speed and reliability in the first two events of the season. New Oberto driver Jimmy Shane, of Covington, posted some of the fastest speeds in the history of the APBA Gold Cup in putting his name on one of the most prestigious trophies in all of motorsports.
In the season opener at Madison, Ind., J. Michael Kelly, Shane's replacement in the U-1 Graham Trucking, looked very quick and stood at the top of the podium after apparent winner Shane was penalized for getting to the start line too soon.
Asked how he feels after two races with his new team, Shane said, "We feel pretty good. We've won every heat we've been in except the Final Heat in Madison and our name is on the Gold Cup. I'm getting comfortable in the boat and it's really fast and loose. I especially like the fast part."
Jones Racing's U-9 Les Schwab Tires/Team Red Dot is being repaired in the team's shop in Enumclaw after a spectacular blowover accident at the Gold Cup. Driver Jon Zimmerman suffered only a chipped tooth but damage to the boat was more extensive. Crew chief Jeff Campbell and the team have been putting in long hours hoping to have the boat ready for the Columbia Cup.
Other teams off to a fast start include Kelly's teammate Cal Phipps in the U-7 Graham Trucking II with two podium finishes and Greg and Brian O'Farrell's 21 GoFastTurnLeft Racing with Jamie Nilsen and Brian Perkins sharing the driver's seat. Perkins scored a second-place finish at the Gold Cup. Nilsen will do the driving in the Tri-Cities with Perkins taking over in Seattle.
H1 Unlimited race teams arrive in the Neil F. Lampson pit area on Thursday.
Testing, qualifying and a "Dash for Cash" are scheduled for Friday with racing getting under way on Saturday. The winner of the HAPO Columbia Cup will be determined during the running of the winner-take-all championship final heat beginning at 4:40 p.m. Sunday.
2014 HAPO Columbia Cup Team Roster
Boat, name, driver, hometown
U-1, Graham Trucking, J. Michael Kelly, Bonney Lake
U-6, Oberto, Jimmy Shane, Covington
U-7, Graham Trucking II, Cal Phipps, Sterling Heights, Mich.
U-9, Les Schwab Tires-Team Red dot, Jon Zimmerman, Maple Valley
U-11, Peters & May, Tom Thompson, Cambridge, Md.
U-12, Miss DiJulio, Greg Hopp, Lake Stevens
U-17, Our Gang Racing, Jeff Bernard, Maple Valley
U-18, Bucket List Racing, Kelly Stocklin, Edmonds
U-21, GoFastTurnLeft Racing, Jamie Nilsen, Federal Way, and Brian Perkins, North Bend
U-22, Ranch & Home presents Webster Racing, Mike Webster, Reading, Pa.
U-37, Beacon Plumbing, Dave Villwock, Monroe
U-96, Spirit of Qatar, Kip Brown, Black Diamond
U-100, Leland Unlimited, Dave Warren, Lake Stevens