KENNEWICK -- The Unlimited Lights spent Friday testing the waters of the Columbia River during the opening day of the Lamb Weston Columbia Cup, looking for any problems pit crews may have to fix before competition officially begins today.
Unfortunately, several crews found such problems.
The first round of testing began at 8:30 a.m. and ended with several boats still docked without a launch. When time trials rolled around at 1:30 p.m., it was more of the same.
The boats that did get out on the water, though, got an opportunity to give the fans along the shoreline a taste of what's to come and give drivers a chance to feel the course.
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"It was amazing," UL-72 driver Kayleigh Perkins said after the morning run. "I've never been on water so fun. It was so much like glass. It was the most fun I've had in a long time. The boat never touched the water. It was just slowly tapping a little bit."
Perkins tested twice, with a higher finishing speed of 114.614 mph, the highest of the boats that made it out.
But not all were so fortunate.
In the morning, newcomer to the Unlimited Lights Austin Eacret took the UL-10 boat on the water for his first experience in the boat. He enjoyed it, but his boat took a licking.
"I didn't really get into the boat because we were slowly losing oil pressure and also it's the first time I've ever been in an Unlimited Light," Eacret said. "So we're just taking it easy, just seeing how the boat is going to handle it, to tell you the truth."
Eacret's crew, including Eacret, worked on the boat for nearly an hour, and also later into the day, failing to post a testing speed in the afternoon the trials.
They weren't the only ones. Speeds were not recorded for five other boats.
"When you build these boats, everything is just fabricated from scratch," said UL-929 driver Vince Xaudaro, a Kamiakin grad. "So what happens is you'll find out you've got a bracket that you can't get on and it takes two hours to put one screw in. That's the kind of stuff that gets time consuming. You come across something you didn't expect."
Luckily, unlike the Unlimiteds, the Unlimited Lights did not have qualifying times to deal with. Friday was simply a setup day.
While the Unlimiteds spent Friday afternoon racing around the track for the fastest time, which earned points and choice of position going into today's heats, the Unlimited Lights will line up equally regardless of Friday's speeds, and will battle from the start for position.
Other top speeds came from UL-14 driver Paul Becker (112.004 mph); UL-5 driver Rod Bourke (101.852); UL-20 driver Bob Smets (100.791); UL-77 driver Dan McCulloch (98.867); UL-40 driver Michael Movinski (96.877); and U-11 driver and current points leader Kevin Eacret, cousin to Austin, (88.935).
Xaudaro's boat didn't make it out on the water for the morning session, as an inspector forced his crew to make some fixes at the last minute. But his team took the time to get it fixed, and posted a speed of 90.303 mph in the afternoon.
"It's better to be safe," Xaudaro said of missing the morning launch. "There were a couple of things wrong, so I'd rather have my bases covered. If you miss one thing, it could cost you a day of work. I'd rather lose two hours today than 24 hours or three days and not get on the water until Sunday."