There was a sense of optimism in Kennewick’s Lampson Pits on Thursday afternoon as 12 H1 Unlimited hydroplane crews got their camps and boats ready for this weekend’s APBA HAPO Gold Cup.
Only the U-21 Go Fast Turn Left racing team wasn’t in the pits Thursday, but they’ll be leaving the Seattle area around 6 a.m. Saturday.
When the U-21 team — a team that finished second in last year’s Gold Cup — does get here, the pits will have a different atmosphere than what previous Columbia Cups have had.
Because this is the Gold Cup, unlimited hydroplane racing’s biggest race.
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“(It’s going to be about) survival,” said Jeff Campbell, the crew chief for the U-9 Red Dot/Les Schwab. “It’s that the intensity is so much higher. And everybody is bringing all of their good stuff.”
And Campbell, who was a long time crew member of the prestigious Miss Budweiser teams, knows what it takes to win a Gold Cup.
“I’ve already got six rings. I’d like another,” he said.
But he knows he’ll have to be patient.
There is an extra round of preliminary heat races in this event, and each heat race is four laps long, not the usual three of a Columbia Cup heat race.
That leaves a lot of room for mistakes.
“It doesn’t matter where the Gold Cup is,” said Scott Raney, co-owner of the gbr-11 Peters & May. “It’s a long, long event. Crazy things happen. It’s a race of attrition. But I don’t know if it’s the extra set of heats or racers trying harder.”
It’s all about surviving those extra heats and laps, staying patient, Ted Porter said. He owns the U-5 Graham Trucking and the U-7 Graham Trucking II.
“You have to start and finish every heat to get to the final,” Porter said. “Once you’re there for the final, anything goes.”
Even the defending Gold Cup and Columbia Cup champion Oberto team is cautious about the event, knowing it’s a long way from today’s testing and qualifying to the Gold Cup final.
“You get enough times out there to try things that even if you miss your mark, you’re OK,” Oberto team manager Charlie Grooms said. “You have a number of opportunities to find out what your driver can do. I’ve only had one year with (driver) Jimmy (Shane), so I’m still learning things about him. I had 13 years with Steve David, so I knew what to expect.”
Some don’t really know what to expect yet.
Charlie Wiggins purchased Nate Brown’s U-17 boat and equipment after the 2014 season and moved the team operations from Preston to Alabama. He changed the boat number to U-27 and got Dalton Industries to sponsor it. He then hired veteran driver Cal Phipps. This weekend marks the first time on the water for the team together.
“We need for us to stay out of the way while the other boats take each other out,” Wiggins said. “We need to stay clean and get through the turns.”
Those wide, sweeping turns is what has U-96 Ellstrom Elam Plus manager Erick Ellstrom hyped.
“With the bigger turns here, there is going to be some tight racing,” Ellstrom said. “I think it’s going to be exciting.”
Ed Cooper, whose piston-powered U-3 Griggs presents Miss Ace Hardware makes its return to the H1 circuit for the first time since 2010, simplified things.
“Winning any race is difficult,” Cooper said. “I think winning the Gold Cup is one more on the notch difficult. Somebody’s gotta win it.”
On Thursday night, 13 teams were making plans as to how they were going to win it.