Hydro Racing

Hanauer tests biofuel hydroplane for Boeing

KENNEWICK -- Get to the Columbia River on Friday around 8:30 a.m. and you can see the legendary past and the potential future at the same time.

Chip Hanauer, the retired unlimited hydroplane driver with the second-most career victories at 61, will take the experimental Boeing U-787 unlimited hydroplane on one of two exhibition runs on the river -- the other is set for 11 a.m. Friday, the first day of the 44th annual Lamb Weston Columbia Cup.

The unlimited runs on a biofuel called BioJet-A, and is a mixture of 20 percent Babassu oil -- a light yellow vegetable oil -- and 80 percent coconut oil.

Unlimited hydroplanes usually run on nitro methane and methanol.

"For me, it's the best of all worlds," Hanauer said Wednesday. "I don't care to compete, but driving the boat is fun. I found the whole project interesting. What with carbon emissions, and it's just fun to be around really smart people with these scientists. I'm not the smartest guy in the world."

Hanauer drove this boat twice last year on Lake Washington to test the biofuel. He got the boat up to 147 mph.

But Boeing has no plans to have this boat compete on the circuit.

"It's a high performance test bed for biofuel testing," said Bob Saling, communications manager for Boeing. "Biofuel is definitely in our future in our aircraft, certainly. This (hydroplane) provides us with another high-performance test. From what I gathered the hydroplane industry is concerned about the possibility of escalating fuel prices."

As for Boeing, the company has tried the biofuel on test flights with Air New Zealand, Virgin, Continental and Japan Airlines, using engines made by four different companies. So far, so good.

And this gives Hanauer, 55, a taste of the hydroplane life. His last competitive race was in 1999.

Besides his work for the Boeing Corporation, Hanauer volunteers with the VA Hospital in Seattle, picking up veterans who can't get to the hospital. He also does corporate and motivational speaking, and he tutors a 20-year-old named Tayler Malsam on the intricacies of racing. Malsam is ranked seventh in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.

As for a comeback, he's says no way.

"I look at (Steve David, 55, and Dave Villwock, 53) and wonder why they're still doing it," Hanauer said, laughing. "No. Literally every day I get asked if I'll ever come back. My answer is I think there are chapters in your life.

"For instance, my four years at WSU were great. Do I want to go back? No. That chapter of my life is closed. I extracted everything I could get out of that. Same with my teaching career. Same with boat racing."

Villwock, with 58 career victories, is closing in on Hanauer's 61 wins (his last came at the Gold Cup in July 1999) and the late Bill Muncey's 62.

"Dave deserves (the record)," Hanauer said. "I think if racing and the record was still important to me, I'd feel sad about it. But I extracted everything I wanted out of boat racing."

What he does miss is the camaraderie with the boat crew.

"There's a real bond there, especially as a race driver," he said. "There's a lot of trust. What I really miss the most is coming back to the dock, when I left the dock and the guys didn't think they gave me a boat, and the looks on their faces after we've won."

As for unlimited hydroplane racing today, Hanauer doesn't mince words.

"I think it's headed right to the bottom," he said. "I look at it way too emotionally. It breaks my heart, to see it with no television and virtually no national sponsors. There are only five races.

"The sport was significant at one time. I was in Sports Illustrated two or three times, on Good Morning America. The first Gold Cup I won was on live TV."

The business side makes him angry.

"I kept screaming for years that there had to be wholesale changes," he said. "We run the same boats in the same formats. The turbines are not the way to go. Whether you like it or not, the draw of hydroplanes was how loud they were.

"Imagine going to a NASCAR race next week and the cars not making any noise. It boggles my mind that the sport can't see that it needs to make changes. I've been out of the sport 10 years, and it was happening then with the trends. The world changes. It's hard. But I think denial is the last nail in the coffin."