Driver Scott Liddycoat completed a magical rookie season Saturday by capturing his first unlimited hydroplane victory during a controversial finish at the Oryx Cup UIM World Championship.
Liddycoat was declared the winner by officials after they reviewed film of the start and saw that drivers Steve David, Dave Villwock and J Michael Kelly had crossed the start line early. Those drivers were given a 1-minute penalty and Liddycoat got his first career victory on the H1 Unlimited tour.
“It’s not the way I would have liked to win the first one but I’ll take it,” Liddycoat said. “This year has been unreal. I don’t think it’s quite sunk in yet.”
David and the Oh Boy! Oberto team thought they had won the Oryx Cup and were ready to celebrate their third race win of the season. But after a 45-minute delay for the awards ceremony, David was told of the penalty that would give second-place finisher Liddycoat the victory.
David was upset by the ruling, noting that fans and television viewers left the race with the impression that the Oh Boy! Oberto had won. Instead they took fifth.
“In a world championship race there is no excuse for that,” David said. “Qatar deserves better officiating than what we gave them today.”
Although race officials initially said the start was legal, when they examined video of the start/finish buoy, David, Villwock and Kelly were more than half a boat length past. Drivers can’t pass the start line before the clock strikes zero. Adding to the problem was that the clock was not displayed on the shore.
“When I looked at the picture, it was obvious,” said Mike Noonan, H1 Unlimited’s chief referee. “Three of the boats were at least half a boat length over or a little less.”
H1 Unlimited Chairman Sam Cole said they will look at procedures regarding official reviews at the start line.
“It was a tough call but it was the right call,” Cole said. “We have to move on.”
Liddycoat had an up-and-down weekend before making the final. The team was docked points for a fuel violation during a heat Friday and were fighting to make the seven-boat final. But his luck turned Saturday when he edged Villwock for first place in day’s final heat, giving him enough points for the final. His luck continued when he got the inside lane and David and Villwock were on the outside.
Because of the penalties, Graham Trucking driver Jeff Bernard went from fifth-place to second place on the podium.
“We’ll take the second-place finish,” Bernard said. “But you would rather do it on the racecourse than see guys get penalized but that’s why we have rules.”
Driver Greg Hopp, who was second to last to qualify for the final, finished third. Rookie driver Jimmy Shane was fourth in the Formulaboats.com boat.
Villwock won three races and took home the driver and team national high points championship this season. He knew getting the outside lane in the final was going to be too difficult to overcome.
“We were in trouble with the lane draw,” Villwock said. “We needed a little luck here or a crash or something to move us in a lane or two.”