People thought it was a cute little joke when the Ellstrom team said it would have to see if its brand new boat floats first before anyone worries about winning anything.
Turns out it wasn’t a joke.
The U-96 Spirit of Qatar team was getting ready to test Friday morning at the HAPO Columbia Cup.
The team was prepared. Driver Kip Brown walked down to the dock, ready to step into the cockpit.
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The crane settled the boat into the Columbia River ... and water came up into the cockpit.
Somebody had forgotten to put the bolts in the hatch.
Brown finally got out on the water, but he didn’t get a full lap in before shutting the boat down.
The reason? The canopy wouldn’t close.
Brown refired the engine and limped the boat back to the pits, where Erick Ellstrom and team tried to get the canopy to shut tight.
“The heat here makes things expand,” said Ellstrom. “We’ve been working where the weather has been in the 50s and 60s. Then we come here.”
The little things.
Brown was able to get the boat qualified the first time out at 139.656 mph. He bumped it up to 142.517 mph, but that was the 10th fastest speed out of the 11 boats that qualified.
But no one on the team was satisfied.
“It can happen in a new boat,” said Ellstrom. “We’ve had no time to test. We’d have liked it to have gone smoother.”
“We’re far enough off the pace,” said Brown. “If we don’t find 10 to 15 mph, we’re not going to be a factor this weekend. The drive is not there. The speed is not there. We’ve got work to do. Mechanically, everything is fine.”
But Brown also sees the potential.
“You can turn the thing with one hand, which is great for a pipsqueak like me,” said Brown. “That makes me feel like a million bucks. When it’s right, it’s going to be a dream to drive.”
Brown said most of the boats in the H1 Unlimited fleet are hard to turn.
“I’m telling you, when I first started in the 17 (Our Gang Racing), I’d go out and race in a heat trying to crank the wheel in the turns,” said Brown. “I was so worn out after each heat race, I’d have to go back into the truck and take a nap. I’m serious.”
Crew chief Mike Hanson was expecting a few problems, but not like this.
“The last time I started a new boat, and the last time Erick started a new boat, they both were fast pretty quickly,” said Hanson. “This is a shocker for both of us.”
But there is hope.
“We have a number of options,” Hanson said. “At least it has gone out on the river and then come back. We have a heck of a talent pool here. We’ll get there.”
Brown cautioned patience to the Qatar race fans.
“It’s a marathon, not a sprint,” said Brown. “It’s our first time in the water.”