Mike Hanson, crew chief of the U-96 Ellstrom Elam Plus Racing, was asked what he had put in his boat that made it so fast in HAPO APBA Gold Cup qualifying Friday.
“A Canadian,” he said with a laugh.
To be more precise, it was a French Canadian in the driver’s seat, Jean Theoret, who drove the U-96 to easily the fastest qualifying time at 160.212 mph.
Jimmy Shane drove the U-1 Oberto to the second-fastest qualifying time at 157.398.
Premium content for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
Maybe it’s no coincidence that the two drivers are the only ones in the 13-boat field with Gold Cup victories under their belts.
After Theoret ripped off that top time, he came back to the Lampson Pits docks and said: “I hope it’s gonna be legal. We’ve been flirting with the N2 violation all day long.”
But after it was declared legal, there was no celebrating in the Ellstrom camp except for one sentence from team manager Erick Ellstrom.
“Elam’s back, huh?” said Ellstrom, who then started complaining. “We were OK, but we’re not happy. We’re gonna go out again. This is a work in progress.”
Theoret, who is racing in the Tri-Cities for the first time in seven years, was matter of fact.
“I’ve got a good team,” said Theoret, who joined the team as its driver late last season. “It was very hard in Doha last year, with very, very rough water.”
Even though his boat at the time was 5 mph ahead of anybody through the first round of qualifying, Ellstrom was not satisfied, even at 160 mph.
“Yeah, but we’re 5 mph from where we should be,” Ellstrom said. “And if we were where we should be, we wouldn’t be happy.”
Larry Oberto, who represents the U-1 sponsor, said that the 160 mph area is where his boat and a number of others should be.
“This is a 160-162 mph course,” Oberto said. “We have some adjustments to make.”
“We’re not getting any acceleration off the corners,” he said.
Oberto representative owner Charlie Grooms wasn’t concerned.
“I think it’s been a good day,” Grooms said. “We just kind of missed some gear ratio setups.”
J. Michael Kelly in the U-5 Graham Trucking had similar problems. He was credited with a third-best speed of 156.519 mph.
“We’re quite a bit off from last year, when we had a lap of 160,” Kelly said.
The fact that only half the field in the season-opening H1 Unlimited race in Madison, Ind., competed in an exhibition because of heavy debris on the Ohio River perhaps didn’t help those teams in getting the bugs out of their systems.
Same with the teams that chose not to race in Madison.
But it obviously didn’t bother the U-96 team, which sat drydocked that weekend.
It was the best among the field on the Columbia River on Friday.
But Theoret has bigger designs on the weekend.
“You know, some boats are better in racing conditions than qualifying,” he said.
The field will compete in two rounds of heats Saturday, two more rounds Sunday, and then the final, set for 4:40 p.m. Sunday.
Theoret believes the best is yet to come for him and the U-96 team.
• Cal Phipps drove the U-27 Wiggins Racing to the fourth-fastest speed at 155.368 mph.
“We made some changes on the wing to make it work from the testing session,” Phipps said. “By the time it’s all said and done, I’m learning on this boat here and Seattle, and then go for it in San Diego and Detroit.”
Other qualifiers included Scott Liddycoat in the U-9 Les Schwab presents Miss Team RedDOT at 154.727; Jimmy King in the U-3 Griggs presents the Miss Ace Hardware at 152.345; Jesse Robertson in the U-7 Graham Trucking II at 150.477; Brian Perkins in the U-21 Fasteners of Washington Idaho Montana presents Lakeridge Paving and Windy River Meats at 149.576; Mike Webster in the U-22 Darrell Strong presents Payne West Insurance at 145.597; and Tom Thompson in the gbr-11 Peters & May at 144.711.
Those who did not qualify were Kevin Eacret in the U-100 Grill on Gage presents Miss Carstar; Kelly Stocklin in the U-18 Bucket List Racing; and Patrick Sankuer in the U-12 Miss DiJulio.