The fast-flowing Columbia River was a worthy adversary for most of the Grand Prix West boats racing in Saturday’s heats.
But it wasn’t tough enough for Greg Hopp, who won both heats in the GP-12 Shooters Sports Bar Presents Miss Slabjack.
With six boats churning up the course in the opening heat, the water near Turn 1 got extremely choppy. Several of the boats wobbled through that area.
“It’s so brutal down in the turn, but the holes aren’t nearly as big as they are in the unlimiteds,” said Hopp, who is driving the U-100 Leland Unlimited.
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Only the GP-12 and the second-place GP-19 Sahara Pizza, driven by David Warren, appeared to emerge unscathed from Heat 1A.
Jerry Hopp’s GP-15 Pump Tech NW required a tow back to shore after an intake gasket loosened up and a water leak was sprung.
Leslie “Poodle” Warren finished her first Grand Prix West heat in third place, but the GP-43 ExtremePlay Racing suffered sponson damage and sat out the second heat.
So did the GP-55 Cabo Marine.
A canard wing flew off during the second lap and punched a hole in the sponson. Kevin Eacret completed the three-lap race without further incident.
“We finish every heat we start, but we’ve never had a problem like this before,” said veteran driver Scotty Pierce, who took the heat off so Eacret could get some seat time. “We just hit a bad patch of water.”
The GP-55 crew planned to patch the sponson so Pierce can get on the water for today’s final, but fixing the wing will be a longer project.
Pierce said the river conditions are the roughest he has seen in his 30 years coming to the Tri-City races.
“Everyone has to deal with it, but it’s hard on the boat,” he said.
While most of the GPW crews faced a long night of repairs, the GP-17 Little Caesars Pizza/EF 65 Hand Cleaner crew brought its boat back from a broken supercharger in the first heat.
Driver Dustin Echols was on the water for Heat 2A against Greg Hopp and David Warren, and they delivered a show to the fans lining the banks of the river.
Echols raced deck-to-deck with Hopp on the final lap before Hopp nosed him out. Warren was in the thick of the roostertails for most of the heat before fading out of contention.
Last summer in the Tri-Cities, Echols didn’t compete in the final because of a broken gearbox. He hopes his boat will stay intact today so he can prevent Hopp from winning here for the second year in a row.
“Our boats are really even,” Echols said. “If we can get inside of him, I don’t think they’ll be able to get by us.”
Heat 1A: 1, GP-12 Shooters Sports Bar Presents Miss Slabjack (Greg Hopp), 100 points. 2, GP-19 Sahara Pizza (David Warren), 95. 3, GP-43 ExtremePlay Racing (Leslie “Poodle” Warren), 90. 4, GP-55 Cabo Marine (Kevin Eacret), 85. GP-15 Pump Tech NW (Jerry Hopp), DNF. GP-17 Little Caesars Pizza/EF 65 Hand Cleaner (Dustin Echols), DNF. GP-60 (Gordy Gillmer), DNS.
Heat 2A: 1, GP-12 Shooters Sports Bar Presents Miss Slabjack (Greg Hopp), 100 points. 2, GP-17 Little Caesars Pizza/EF 65 Hand Cleaner (Dustin Echols), 95. 3, GP-19 Sahara Pizza (David Warren), 90.
w Katie Dorsey: 582-1526; email@example.com