KENNEWICK -- Summer came a little early for boat race fans Friday, as two unlimited hydroplanes hit the Columbia River for testing.
The crews and drivers of the U-21 Albert Lee and the U-25 Superior Racing spent the entire day at Lampson Pits testing and tweaking their equipment as they prepare for the 2010 H1 Unlimited season.
The U-21, with Brian Perkins driving, looked especially impressive turning numerous laps and reaching 201 mph in the straightaway.
"We've got a race boat," said team owner Greg O'Farrell, who purchased the hull in the offseason from Freedom Racing after running the U-48 and U-50 hulls the past few years. "This one is 1,000 pounds lighter than the (U-48)."
And it's a better ride, according to Perkins.
"Everything is better about this one," Perkins said. "This boat accelerates really hard, it has great top speed, and it turns great. We should be able to compete this season. But we still have a lot of learning to do."
But compared to the rest of the unlimited field, O'Farrell's team -- and even Dr. Ken Muscatel and his U-25 team, which spent much of the day working on the boat on land -- are a step ahead of everyone else.
Very rarely does an unlimited team get a chance to shake the cobwebs out of its boat before the season opener.
And this year, most teams are behind schedule on getting their boats race-ready for the season-opening Madison Regatta, set for July 2-4 in Madison, Ind.
That's because the entire fleet didn't get back from the November race in Doha, Qatar, until after the first of the year.
"For example, all of the decks are off of the U-37," O'Farrell said. "We're ahead of the curve."
Of course, O'Farrell didn't race the U-21 in Qatar. He raced the U-48, which will be the team's backup boat this season.
While the U-21 took a number of trips out on the Columbia, Muscatel's team was a little bit behind schedule, and the U-25 didn't get out on the water until mid-afternoon.
"This is why you test," Muscatel said. "The boat will be ready to go this season."
The U-25 in the pits Friday was not the same boat Muscatel had last season in the Tri-Cities. This newest version went through a radical remodeling job by Ron Jones Jr. last year.
Muscatel also was planning on letting inboard driver Jon Zimmerman of Seattle drive the boat in a quest to eventually get him qualified as an unlimited driver.
"He's a good driver and I'm 61," Muscatel said.
But even at 61, Muscatel still has the desire to compete.
"I'd like a win," he said of this coming season. "I'd certainly like to be competitive."
The Lamb Weston Columbia Cup is scheduled for July 23-25 on the Columbia River.
There are four other races scheduled for the 2010 season -- Madison; the APBA Gold Cup in Detroit, set for July 9-11; the Albert Lee Seafair, scheduled for Aug. 6-8; and the Oryx Cup UIM World Championship, set for Nov. 18-20 in Doha, Qatar.