Thursday, April 2, 2009

Now THIS is Offshore Racing...

There's been a lot of talk recently on the various offshore forums about the current state of offshore powerboat racing in the U.S., and the consensus seems to be that a shakeup -- or better yet -- a consolidation of some sort, is seriously needed. In the past, the sport was known for its high visibility, high payouts for race winners, and strong focus on a few classes of competitive boats. Today, while there is still a lot of enthusiasm among individual racers, and some international circuits like Powerboat P1 are seeing a solid level of success, the sport in America is diffused among a number of different racing organizations like OSS, APBA, OPA, SBI...and others. Many participants and former racers feel the sport is suffering from too many classes, too little prize money, a lack of sponsors and media exposure, and a high cost-barrier to entry for the "little guy."



With that in mind, I came across this promotional video for the Honda Formula Four-Stroke Association, a UK-based series that bills itself as "the largest offshore powerboat championship in the world."  Honda launched the Series in 1999 in order to prove the performance of their new BF130 4-stroke outboard engines. To make things simple, there are only two classes, a 150hp class with 21' boats, and a more aggressive 225hp class, featuring 28' Cougar hulls.  Both engines and hulls are standardized and cannot be modified throughout the series, to keep things competitive.  And it IS competitive. In 2006, there were 25 teams fighting it out in just those two classes. The boats are priced within reason as well, making the series one of the most affordable and accessible forms of motor sport out there, allowing an enthusiast with modest means to compete at a national championship level. 

PHOTO CREDIT:  Formula Four-Stroke Association

As for the quality of the racing, the video speaks for itself. There are lots of boats, racing close together, with plenty of "balls-to-the-wall" action. This is the closest I have seen to "Nascar on the water," with hulls banging together and trading paint (trading gel?) at speeds from 55mph for the 150hp class to about 75mph for the 225hp class. Those speeds are far below the 100+mph seen on some high-hp circuits, but that's pretty fast for the size of boat we're talking about and a single outboard. Again, one look at the video proves there's no lack of excitement here. If you want to talk offshore powerboating as an Extreme Sport, here's the proof.

Lessons to be Learned

It seems to me there's a lot that could be gained from studying the approach this series takes. It gets exposure on UK television through the BBC Channel 4, and they are also distributed and syndicated via networks such as Sky Sports, SNTV, Fox Sports and ESPN. They do a great job of supporting the media and involve journalists and celebrities with a special media race boat.

PHOTO CREDIT:  Formula Four-Stroke Association

Here in the U.S., there seems to be a natural bias against using outboard power in a series, as we just love our big V8's and stern drives. As a result, the cost to be truly competitive has risen dramatically, and while some committed individuals are trying to find solutions in this regard, it's still a struggle. This is powerboating, after all, and there are so many "A-type" personalities involved, it's hard to get people to agree on anything -- reflecting a strong tendency to focus inward for solutions instead of looking outward for real answers on how to improve the sport. While everyone agrees there will always be a place for the big, high-dollar competitors and series where the Big Dogs go to play, the Formula Four-Stroke Series seems to be something from which we could learn a lot.

3 comments:

Offshoreboat.com said...

Totally agree with you. This is the closest to NASCAR on the water. When the 24ft. Skaters where all the rage in the states it was similar but the boats where just too fast. This would be great for the states as it seems like it could be televised easily and make for some good TV. The other upside is it no longer becomes a battle of the fattest wallet.

Rangerram said...

This is great action. I am a sportscar racer peeking around powerboat racing as my next hobby, this seems a better entry level boat that`s a barrel o fun!

M. SCHWEITZER said...

Well, the Powerboat P1 Superstock Series that's running in the States this summer is basically the same type of racing you see here. - I'd suggest you check it out at http://www.p1superstock.com/

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