David, Oberto win Seafair hydro race for third straight year

By Bob Condotta, The Seattle TimesAugust 6, 2012 

SEATTLE -- A week later, Steve David made sure he was also just a second or two later.

And Sunday, when David tried to speed past the rest of the field to grab the crucial inside lane before the winner-take-all final of the Albert Lee Cup at Seafair, he timed it perfectly.

With the inside lane -- and the shortest route around the course -- in hand, David cruised to the victory on a hot, pristine day at Lake Washington to capture the Seafair trophy for the U-6 Oh Boy! Oberto for the third straight year.

It was also the fourth Seafair win for Oberto since 2007, when it won its first race on its home course. Victories in Seattle are suddenly becoming old hat for 85-year-old boat sponsor Art Oberto.

"Now the problem is he expects it every year," said David, laughing and looking at Oberto surrounded by a happy pit celebration.

Finishing second was Jimmy Shane in the U-5 Graham Trucking.

Dave Villwock in the U-96 Spirit of Qatar finished behind J. Michael Kelly in fourth, but was bumped up to third when Kelly was penalized a lap.

Shane and Villwock were among four boats that decided to slow down and essentially park just shy of the one-minute buoy, hoping to steal inside lanes. David took a different strategy, deciding to circle around them a few times and hit the one-minute buoy at full speed, then get far enough ahead that he would have the five-roostertail cushion needed to grab the inside lane.

David tried the same move last week at the Columbia Cup in the Tri-Cities, but got there too early and was assessed a penalty, allowing Shane to win.

"I learned to slow down just a little," David said with a smile.

David said he had worked out the calculations he would need to get that perfect timing during a few sessions in his trailer.

"You have to make sure all the big guys are going to make that commitment (to park in their lanes) real early," David said. "Once they make that commitment, they can't unmake that commitment. That's why I circled a few times to make sure they were at the pin and it was 'OK, they are there.' "

Shane said he knew what David was doing but hoped he could steal the inside anyway.

"I was trying to get enough steam rolled up to hold him off, but he hit that thing full-bore, and you really can't defend that when you are down there parked, no matter how fast your boat accelerates," Shane said. "If they are going 180 (mph) and you are going 80, they are going to make up five boat lengths real quick."

David led throughout the final. Shane, inside Villwock, moved into second early and held it throughout.

"As soon as I came around the first lap, I said 'If I don't screw up, this is ours,' " David said.

The final capped a frustrating Washington swing for Villwock, who has won a record 10 Seafairs but hasn't won a race in Seattle since 2009. After winning the first two races of the season in Madison, Ind., and Detroit, he finished third in Tri-Cities as well as Seattle.

Villwock hinted at engine trouble without much detail.

"It just felt like I wasn't getting power at times," he said. "We will just have to look at it and see what happened."

U-1 crew chief Erick Ellstrom said "everything was fine (with the boat). Oberto ran a good race and deserved to win."

The victory allowed David and the Oberto to surpass Villwock and the Qatar -- which had a 190-point lead heading into the weekend -- in the points standings.

The Oberto leaves Seattle with 5,817 points to the Qatar's 5,620 with races remaining in San Diego in September and Doha, Qatar in January.

The win also continued what has been a late-career revival for David, who began racing unlimited in 1988 but had only four victories before 2005. He now has 15.

David, 58, said the win meant he would come back to race another season.

The seemingly annual win on Lake Washington, home to the team's sponsors and many crew members, is reason enough to keep coming back.

"The Gold Cup (in Detroit) is huge because of its legacy," David said. "But really, for me, this is it, man. Seattle is the big one."

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