The reigning 2013 H1 Unlimited hydroplane national champions got off to a great start defending their title Sunday.
U1 Graham Trucking, with new driver J. Michael Kelly aboard, won the Indiana Governor’s Cup in Madison, Ind.
Kelly took advantage of a rare mistake by U6 Oberto driver Jimmy Shane in the final, as Shane crossed the starting line too early and was penalized a lap.
Shane had won the battle for the inside lane before the start of the race, as things looked good for the hometown boat.
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But the video replay showed the start line in the center of the boat as the clock hit 00:00.
“I was on my marks and Jimmy was ahead of me, so I knew he would have to back down a little,” said Kelly about Shane and the start. “He did, but I guess it wasn’t quite enough.”
Shane led all five laps of the final but the infraction at the start dropped him back to fourth place behind Kelly, Jon Zimmerman in the U9 Red Dot and Cal Phipps in the 7 Graham Trucking, who finished in that order.
Kelly didn’t know until halfway through the final that Shane had been penalized, but when he did he didn’t let up on the throttle because Zimmerman and Phipps in the U7 Graham Trucking were on his tail.
Zimmerman finished second, while Phipps — in his first race for the Graham team — got third.
It was Kelly’s second career unlimited victory. He won a race driving for Porter in 2009 in the inaugural Onyx Cup in Doha, Qatar.
It was the first race for Shane in the Oberto. Shane was the driver of the U1 Graham last season, leading the team to the national high points championship.
But in the offseason, after Steve David retired as the driver of the Oberto, Shane was hired by the Oberto/Miss Madison team.
Until the final, Shane had been having a perfect day, winning all three of his heat races.
Meanwhile, Kelly came over to Graham after driving the U37 Beacon Plumbing team last season. But he wasn’t a stranger to Graham team owner Ted Porter.
Kelly had driven for the team three years ago. But when Porter opted to run just one boat, Kelly was the odd man out.
Two years ago at the Columbia Cup in the Tri-Cities, Kelly lost the final to Shane by less than 10 feet.
The fleet moves to Detroit this week for the APBA Gold Cup, racing July 11-13.
Then it travels to the Tri-Cities for the HAPO Columbia Cup, set for July 25-27.
Even though Kelly and Graham won the race, Shane and Oberto head to Detroit with the national high points lead after one event.
Shane/Oberto compiled 1,869 points this weekend, while Kelly/Graham have 1,280.
All seven races for the Madison Regatta were run on Sunday in a new format that H1 Unlimited Chairman Sam Cole has been pushing.
He told the Herald on Sunday evening he thought the format was fantastic.
“We started at 11 a.m. (EDT) and were done at 4:30 p.m.,” Cole said. “We even had a mandatory river closure for commercial traffic for one hour by the Coast Guard. Seven heats in one day. It’s the first time this sport has done it in 20, 25 years.”