Fans attending this coming weekend’s APBA HAPO Gold Cup will get a little extra racing for their dollar.
Instead of the usual three rounds of preliminary heat races, there are four scheduled rounds.
On Saturday, Heat 1A (2:30 p.m.), 1B (3 p.m.), 2A (4:10 p.m.) and 2B (4:40 p.m.) will take place.
On Sunday, another four heat races will take place before the Gold Cup final is held at 4:40 p.m.
Another change: each preliminary heat consists of four laps — not the usual three.
The Gold Cup final is five laps. That’s like a normal Columbia Cup final.
There is another difference in the Gold Cup, one that you can’t measure.
“Just the intensity, it ramps up,” said H1 Unlimited chairman Steve David. “The Gold Cup, no matter where it is, you’ll see that intensity in the drivers’ faces.”
It’s because the Gold Cup is the oldest active trophy in motorsports.
For unlimited hydroplane race teams, it’s the equivalent of the NFL’s Super Bowl.
“I think it’d be the same thing at the Indy 500, or the Daytona 500,” said David.
Jimmy Shane, who drove the U-1 Oberto to the national high points championship last season, is the defending Gold Cup champion, and won the Columbia Cup last year, agrees.
“It is intense from Friday morning at 8 a.m. until Sunday afternoon at 5 p.m.,” said Shane. “This is the trophy everyone wants to win.”
And everyone will be at the top of their game, said J. Michael Kelly, the driver of the U-5 Graham Trucking.
“This is the ultimate,” said Kelly. “You want to win every race you compete in, but the Gold Cup has so much history involved. You get your name on the best trophy in the sport. It’s a pretty big accomplishment for a team, and you only get so many tries to possibly win a Gold Cup.”
The Gold Cup is one thing. The race for the national high points championship is another.
There are just five races scheduled on the H1 Unlimited circuit this season, and one of them, the Madison Regatta, was run on July 5. Because there was too much debris in the Ohio River, the race was run as an exhibition, with just five of the 10 boats there running.
Because of that, no points were awarded during the race.
So everyone starts this weekend even at zero. But now, with just four races left, mistakes must be few if you expect to be declared national champion.
“You can’t afford bad heats,” said David.
What he does like is this field?
“I like to be cautious with platitudes, but I do believe in all the years we’ve never had five boats which could win absolutely any Sunday,” said David. “The 1 (Oberto), the 3 (Grigg’s presents Ace Hardware), the 5 (Graham), the 9 (Red Dot/Les Schwab) and 96 (Ellstrom Racing) could win any race. Then throw in the old 17, which is now 27 (Wiggins Racing) and the 11 (Peters & May), which will be right there, and you have a pretty competitive field.”
As for the future, David said he’s been trying to figure out ways to keep the old unlimited audience happy while drawing in a new audience at the same time.
“It’s a challenge because teams want to race but have limited finances to do so,” he said.
All of the various changes in technology have hampered things.
“Racing the way it worked way back was entertainment. People would seek out that entertainment,” David said.
Not so now. There are too many things for people to do.
“How do we get the casual gearheads interested in our sport?” he said. “Those are the big challenges ahead of us. We’re kind of throwing everything but the kitchen sink at them.”
David did say he’s confident H1 will add two sites for 2016.
“Coeur d’Alene will be ready, and a shootout event at Owensboro (Ky.),” he said. “Beyond that, there is a tentative site.”
As for Sunday, he knows what will make him happy.
“Everybody healthy,” he said. “The trophy awarded right after the race, no infractions and hopefully no acrimony.”
• The Gold Cup will get a 13th unlimited hydroplane in the pits this weekend.
Brian Perkins, driver of the U-21 Go Fast, Turn Left racing team, confirmed Tuesday that the team will be in the pits no later than Saturday.
That’s a complete turnaround from last week, when the team said it would be ready for Seafair but not Tri-Cities. The team has Albert Lee Apliance as its Seafair sponsor.
But the Gold Cup being just a four-hour drive away from western Washington, and the team finishing second at last year’s Gold Cup, racing in the Tri-Cities made sense.
“It’s a combination of everything,” said Perkins. “We did well last year at the Gold Cup, and we started talking about it on Monday. (Team owner) Greg (O’Farrell) told us “If you guys are willing to put in the work, we’ll do it.’”
This is not the planned new boat, either.
“This is the same boat we flipped from last year (at the Columbia Cup),” Perkins said. “Early this the winter we decided we were going to rebuild the crashed boat. That’s the one getting all the attention the last five months.”
Guys stayed until 10 p.m. Monday working, and the first ones on Tuesday showed up at 7 a.m.
“At this point, we got a white boat sitting on a dolly with wings on it,” said Perkins. “It’s coming together. I don’t know when we’ll be there, but we’re gonna be there.”
NOTES: Three to four unlimiteds will be on display from 4 to 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Columbia Center Mall parking lot. Fans can get close to the boats for free. ... A new hydroplane was put back on a pole Tuesday at the Columbia Park entrance and christened. It’s a former Fred Leland hull. ... Public parks bicycle trails along the Columbia River in Kennewick and Pasco will be partially closed as both sides of the river host the races. Columbia Park will be closed from the Blue Bridge to Edison Street in Kennewick beginning at 6 p.m. Thursday through 6p.m. Sunday. Wade Park Road from 34 to Road 60 in Pasco will be closed Saturday and Sunday. ... Overturf Volkswagen AudiKia is sponsoring a computerized full-size hydroplane simulator at its lot on from 1-4 p.m. Thursday. Fans can experience what it’s like to drive an unlimited hydroplane. Each ride will accommodate two people for 1-5 minutes. ... Overturf will also be sponsoring Jerry Hopp’s Grand Prix West boat (GP-15), which is the 2013 National Champion and finished second in the Tri Cities last year.