2007 Chrysler Jeep APBA Gold Cup

A Gold Cup Win For Dave Villwock and Ellstrom

In 1994, patriarch Sven Ellstrom and his family joined the unlimited hydroplane family with their radically designed, four-point hydroplane. Unfortunately, it went airborne while testing for the Seattle race. It came straight back down and broke in two at the cockpit, seriously injuring driver Ken Dryden. Since then, the Ellstrom team has evolved to the top of the competition. They won the National Championship in 2005 and won three races in 2006. However, they had never won the Gold Cup; now they have. Dave Villwock won his sixth and the Ellstrom team won its first in the Chrysler Jeep Superstores Detroit APB A Gold Cup. It was an emotional win for the Ellstroms, as Erick's mother, Kirsten, died on the Wednesday prior to race weekend.

Testing and Qualifying

Leading the field, as he had done in the season's first two races, was Dave Villwock in Ellstrom at 162.754. Prior to his run, Villwock said, "So far, so good for the season. We'll probably do more than 161. It depends on what the mayor has done to the water!" Right before Villwock's turn on the water, Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick drove a large offshore boat for three laps around the course. The only other boat over 160 mph was Miss Beacon Plumbing (Jean Theoret) at 160.089. Steve David in Oh Boy! Oberto did three laps over 158 mph, but lost the speed to an N2 violation. He later had a legal 156.110. "We were just a little over on the N2. We are working on gear box and propeller combinations. We have to redo all our combinations because the new boat goes through the water so easy." Jimmy King overcame early electrical problems to qualify the Chrysler Jeep at 155.515.

The fifth fastest was J. Michael Kelly in Spirit of Detroit at 155.379. Surprisingly, the only Detroit-based boat on the circuit could not get a local sponsor.

Jeff Bernard qualified both of the boats. He did 153.770 in Mike Allen's U-1 Dick Scott Auto Group Presents Formulaboats.com and did 152.984 in his U-5 Formulaboats.com Presents Miss DYC. "I'm not real comfortable in the U-1, but Mike won't be here until later in the afternoon. My boat still needs work. We are having problems with the canard; we're getting too much air under the boat."

Mike Weber also commented on the work necessary for his team's two boats. "In addition to working on the U-5's canard, we are still fixing the electrical system. Our goal now is to get a comfortable ride for Jeff. The laps he did in U-1 gave him some familiarity with the course. We think we have the U-1 back to our baseline; now we're looking to be quicker. We're trying to get both boats to where they were before the flips at Evansville."

Ken Muscatel got a sponsor for Detroit, Jarvis Construction, a company that specializes in disaster restoration work worldwide. Muscatel did a 149.424 in the former Trendwest/T-Plus boat. "We can do better than we did. This boat is much better than the U-2.25 I drove last year; it doesn't die in the corners."

The final qualifier was Greg Hopp in Mirageboats.com at 138.651. "We're working on the handling and the front wing ... so that waves don't come over the deck and shut down the turbine. That was our problem in Madison, not a blown motor. The boat does show signs of promise."

Mike Allen arrived in the afternoon and did some laps in the U-1. "On Wednesday, the New Orleans Saints' team doctor did surgery on my broken thumb. He put a plate in and six screws. I have a carbon fiber brace to wear, complete with a picture of the boat on it. It gives me support so it doesn't feel like my thumb is going to fall off. My boat is all fixed from Evansville. It was shocking to have both of us go over. It hurt our inventory of parts; we need to make it through the season. I went out to test my thumb, a gearbox, and a prop. My thumb felt better than I thought it would.

I still have a lot to learn, but being on this course last year helps. I have learned to stay out of trouble; don't put yourself in a position to get into trouble."

Like Friday, Saturday temperatures were in the high 70's. The boats were able to test from 8 am to 9 am, but then the winds came. The 20+ mph winds blowing against the river current kept the boats on their trailers the rest of the day.

For the fans, Saturday's entertainment was provided by eight offshore boats which ran four heats of racing on the 2½ mile course. They are big, loud, and fast on the straightaway, but the Roostertail turn was a challenge. For the unlimiteds, there would be three heats and a final on Sunday, enough to make the Gold Cup official. All heats would be five laps.

Heat 1

Sunday's weather was great, temperatures in the high 70's and a very light breeze blowing across the course. Great racing and viewing conditions for Detroit!

To get the extra heat in the Sunday schedule, 1A began at 9:40 a.m. Beacon was in the Belle Isle turn with 1:30 to go to get lane 1; Ellstrom moved into lane 2. U-1 Formula II was in lane 3, Spirit of Detroit was in lane 4, and Mirageboats was in lane 5. The boats moved slowly down the backstretch until Hopp hit the gas. He went very wide through the Roostertail turn and was first across the line. Unfortunately, he jumped. Ellstrom was first in and out of the turn and led Beacon by 1½ roostertails at the end of the lap. Formula II was in third, followed by Spirit and Mirageboats.

At the beginning of lap 2, Allen caught Theoret and passed him. Villwock led by two roostertails. In lap 3, Kelly caught up to Theoret in the backstretch and passed him coming out of the Roostertail turn. Mirageboats died coming out of the first turn in lap 4. Ellstrom finished two roostertails ahead of Formula II. Spirit was third, with Beacon fourth.

After the heat, the rescue boat went to Mirageboats. "The hot end blew, and it started a small fire at the end of the cowling," said Hopp. "It wasn't serious enough for me to set off the fire suppression system. I waited for the rescue boat and used their small extinguisher. Then I put the cowling in the river to cool it off. We'll see if we can get the engine swapped in time for Heat 2." The Beacon team immediately began changing the engine. "I got the lane I wanted," ! said Theoret. "I got a good start, but there was no juice. I lost power each lap and kept going I slower. I never did have full power." After the heat, the crew discovered that Beacon's problem was disintegrating whiffle balls. To provide ballast in the fuel tank and to keep the fuel from sloshing around. Beacon's fuel tank was full of softball and baseball-size whiffle balls. The crew discovered the balls were disintegrating, and parts were clogging the fuel system. Some whiffle parts were even found in the ABRA fuel monitor. It wasn't known whether the disintegration was due to the flip in Evansville, or just the result of long-term exposure to jet fuel. Dee Moore, wife of crewman Bill Moore, was sent on an emergency run to a sporting goods store to buy new whiffle balls, while the crew tried to get all the old balls and pieces out of the tank. The balls did not arrive until just before the third heat.

Allen was pleased with his second place finish. "My thumb is holding up OK. Dave's boat is strong and fast. We don't have his chute speed. We're trying to stay out of trouble and be consistent. Ask me how my thumb is at about 7 tonight." Unfortunately, Allen would not be in the pits at 7 p.m.

In 1B, Chrysler Jeep was in lane 1, Oberto in lane 2, Jarvis in lane 3, and the U-5 in lane 4. Chrysler and Oberto moved slowly down the backstretch. Chrysler could not accelerate quickly and was left behind at the start. Oberto got to the line too fast; David jumped. "I was over by inches; it took the officials two laps to decide that I had jumped."

Oberto was first in and out of the turn. Jarvis and the were side by side down the backstretch, with Chrysler closing fast. King passed both of them from the outside in the Roostertail turn, but Bernard pulled into second at the end of the lap. King passed Bernard again in lap 2 and trailed David by two roostertails. The field was spread out in lap 4, and David did not get the white flag. In lap 5, Chrysler tossed a rod through its engine block. moved up to finish first, Jarvis was second, and Oberto did the extra lap to get third.

After the heat, was disqualified for a flagrant fuel violation; it cost Bernard his 400 points and moved Muscatel to first and David to second. Like last year. Muscatel had a heat win in the Gold Cup. "We're doing the best we can, said Muscatel. Getting 400 points is real important when there are only three preliminary heats."

Heat 2

In 2A, David was in the Belle Isle turn with two minutes until the start, all by himself, to get lane 1. Formula II was in lane 2, Chrysler in lane 3, Spirit in lane 4, and in lane 5. Bernard sped through the Roostertail turn on the outside and crossed the start line first, but David was first in the out of the Belle Isle turn. Chrysler pulled even with Oberto in the backstretch, but David used the inside lane to have a small lead at the end of lap 1. Spirit, Formula II, and trailed.

In lap 2, David again used the inside to pull ahead in the Belle Isle turn and led Chrysler by half a roostertail. Spirit was a roostertail behind Chrysler. David stretched his lead to beat King by a roostertail. Allen moved inside of Kelly to challenge for third in lap 4, but Kelly held off the challenge, in spite of a huge bounce in the last turn of lap 5 that caused Spirit to lose its back wing.

After the heat, boats team manager Mike Weber was upset. "In the first lap, Steve pushed the whole field outside in the backstretch. Jeff was originally in lane 5, and he had to back off to keep from hitting the DYC. Then Steve slid wide in the Roostertail turn and pushed everyone out some more. The problem for Mike and Jeff, who were in lanes 4 and 5, is that the turn only has five lanes! They both had to back off and cross wakes to keep away from the wall. That put them out of the race."

The ABRA officials did not agree with Weber, but they did fine David $100 for an unintentional encroachment in the Roostertail turn of lap 1. They ruled that his boat hopped in the rough water, came unhooked, and moved out. Because it was unintentional, there was no lap penalty.

Later, the ABRA officials did have good news for Weber. After further review, they rescinded U-5's flagrant fuel violation in 1B. That moved Bernard back into first, took away Muscatel's first and moved him to second, and moved David to third. Unfortunately, some teams only learned about this decision when the lineup for the final heat was announced.

In 2B, Beacon and Ellstrom were early in the Belle Isle turn in lanes 1 and 2. Jarvis moved into lane 3. Mirageboats was compressor stalling and Hopp returned to the pits before the start.

Beacon was across the line first, but jumped the gun. Villwock slowed at the start to avoid jumping. Theoret was first in and out of the turn, but Villwock passed him on the backstretch. Theoret backed off as he learned he had jumped. At the end of lap 1, Jarvis was closing the gap and challenging Beacon. In lap 2, Theoret regained speed and pulled away from Muscatel. The rest of the heat was a parade.

After the heat, Fred Leland withdrew Mirageboats, due to a lack of equipment. But Hopp would still be driving a boat; Muscatel asked him to takeover the cockpit of Jarvis. "I've had a change in medication, and it is making me short of breath. I couldn' t drive hard enough to catch Beacon in 2B; I had to back off. I could continue, but I don't want to take an unnecessary risk," said Muscatel. In last year's Detroit race, Hopp also "pinch drove" for Muscatel, but it was in the U-2.25. "My goal is to drive every boat in the pits," joked Hopp.

Heat 3

The best heat of the day was 3A. In most heats, the fast laps are at the beginning and then the boats slow down.

In this heat, the first and second place boats went faster in each lap! Oberto again was early in the Belle Isle turn to take lane 1. Chrysler was in lane 2, but King stayed back to keep up his speed for the start. Jarvis was in lane 3. Spirit never left its trailer.

Jarvis and Oberto were first across the line, but Oberto was first in and out of the turn. Chrysler pulled even in the backstretch. David and King stayed in lanes 1 and 2 through the Roostertail turn and David led King by 3/10 of a second at the end of the lap. David's speed for the lap was 149.088; King's was 148.350.

David and King stayed side by side for the rest of the heat. At the end of lap 2, David led by two boat lengths. At the end of lap 3, David's lead was one boat length. In lap 4, King used a 153.050 lap to pass David as the boats exited the Roostertail and to lead by one boat length at the end of the lap. David's lap speed was 151.809.

In the last lap, Oberto hooked briefly coming out of the Belle Isle turn. This enabled Chrysler to expand its lead down the backstretch. David tried to catch King, running the fastest lap of the heat at 154.178. But King was able to win by half a roostertail. Hopp, in his first outing in Muscatel's boat, finished a distant third.

"This was fun," said King. "I wanted to be in the final. We had no choice but to run hard. We'll ran the same engine in the final. It's what we have left. We hurt our powerhouse engine this morning."

David also had fun. "It was a great heat. I hit a big roller coming out of the Belle Isle turn on the last lap. The prop came out of the water. Chrysler went ahead, and that was it. I had to stay close to the buoys in the Roostertail turn since I was fined for encroaching in Heat 2."

In 3B, Beacon and Ellstrom were once again early in the Belle Isle turn in lanes 1 and 2. Formula II was in 3, with in lane 4. Beacon and Ellstrom came close to touching as they went through the Roostertail turn heading for the start. Theoret was first to cross the line, but Villwock was first in and out of the turn. Ellstrom showed great speed in the backstretch and pulled to a roostertail lead over Beacon and Formula II, which were side-by-side.

Having the required overlap distance, Villwock moved into lane 1 entering the Roostertail turn. When Theoret got to the turn, lane 1 was no longer there for him, and Beacon hooked and hit the inside of the second buoy of the turn. Theoret restarted the boat, picked up the buoy he missed, and rejoined the field in a distant fourth place. Villwock led Allen by two roostertails and stayed there, Bernard a half a lap behind Allen in third.

Theoret's fourth place finish would result in Beacon not making the final. The defending Gold Cup champion went to the other camps and congratulated the teams that would be in the final. He was disappointed. "When I got to the turn, I didn't have a lane. But we also didn't have a competitive boat today."

Final

The final would have five boats, plus a trailer. The front line boats were Ellstrom, Oberto, Formula II, and Jarvis. The Chrysler team was surprised to be the trailer, not knowing thats' penalty had been rescinded.

Oberto was first to the turn on the inside, but Ellstrom, in lane 2, caught up in the turn. David and Villwock were side-by-side down the backstretch. Villwock used his speed to lead by less than a roostertail at the end of lap 1. Following were Formula II, Jarvis, Chrysler, and Villwock stretched his lead to a roostertail by the end of lap 2.

In lap 3, Formula II flipped on the straight-away near the entrance to the Belle Isle turn. The boat hit a roller and launched into the air. The boat did 1¼ revolutions before landing upside down.

It took a while for the rescue crew to get Allen out of the boat, as he was unconscious. He regained consciousness as the medical boat took him to the medical center in the pits.

He was alert and talking, but the sutures from his thumb surgery had come loose.

Allen was taken to the hospital for observation and to treat his thumb.

The boat had serious damage to the right sponson; it broke from the boat when the boat got back to the pits. It also had damage to the left shoe.

Since the Final was stopped before the leader had completed 2½ laps, the heat would be rerun. Villwock argued that he was halfway down the backstretch when the race was stopped, but the ABRA officials did not agree.

Final (Rerun)

With Formula II out, Chrysler now became a front-line boat. Beacon was next in line to be the trailer, but owners Billy and Jane Schumacher said no, preferring to let Spirit, the only boat from Detroit, be in the Final.

Ellstrom and Oberto were early in the backstretch, but this time Ellstrom was in lane 1 with Oberto in lane 2. could not start because of a relay failure and never left the dock. The ABRA officials told Kelly that he could move to the front line; he was in lane 4, then Chrysler and Jarvis.

Ellstrom was first to and out of the turn, but Oberto pulled along side in the backstretch. Villwock used the inside lane in the Roostertail turn to take a half-roostertail lead at the end of lap 1. Spirit was in third, then Chrysler and Jarvis.

In lap 2, Villwock extended his lead to a roostertail. Spirit was in an outside lane, and Chrysler moved inside to challenge. King pulled even with Kelly in lap 3, while Villwock maintained his one roostertail lead over David.

In lap 4, Chrysler died as it exited the Belle Isle turn; a broken turbo housing was the cause. Villwock went on to win by one roostertail over David. Kelly was third, and Hopp was fourth.

Spirit owner Dave Bartush was pleased with third, but thought it was ironic. "In 2005, we won the Gold Cup here in a three-boat final heat. Because of an accident in the original final heat, the officials wanted to put more boats in the restart. We argued that to do that was against the rules, and we were right. So in the off-season, ABRA changed the rule to allow more boats to be put in the final to provide a good show for the fans. We call it the Bartush Rule, and it's ironic that the rule we were against in 2005 is now the reason why we got in the final in 2007."

Steve David explained his different strategy for the rerun of the final. "I tried everything I could to beat Dave. This time, I took lane 2 and left lane 1 open for him. I wanted to try to pinch him and keep him tight on the inside, but I didn't have the speed to keep up with him. That was my plan, but it just didn't work. We need some new propellers and the right gears to get more speed, but otherwise, I'm feeling comfortable with the boat."

Villwock agreed that David had a good plan. "Steve made a real good move. Usually lane 1 is not the place to be. Steve was in lane two. I didn't want Jimmy to take lane 1. Then I would have to take lane 3 and be outside both of them. So I took lane 1 and was able to get a good run at the start and take the lead. When you're in the lead, lane 1 is a good place to be. It was rough by the DYC. I had to recover a couple of times. I used the wing to plant the boat hard a couple of times to keep it on the water. It's not fun racing when you have no competition; we've never had a field that has been this competitive, so this has been fun."

When asked how this Gold Cup win compared to his others, Villwock said, "This one is the best. The Budweiser team was great, but they were a bunch of hired guns. This team is a group of friends who came together to race a boat. Our team is close. If s a good win for the team. This win is also special because it is a win for Erick's mom. She was special. She passed away on July 11, and the prop we used in the final was our prop number 7/11. I think we may retire this prop."

An emotional Erick Ellstrom was also pleased with the win and the season. "If we knew all the answers to why we are doing better this year, we wouldn't have had a year like last year. We are trying to race smart each year. Adding Dave last year was the missing piece to our puzzle. We've been trying to win the Gold Cup for 12 years, and we've finally done it."

At the halfway mark of the 2007 season, the Ellstrom team has won all three races and all but one of its heats. The family team that started with the Seattle race of 1994 has ascended to the top of the mountain. They are performing at their best. No boat has ever won all the races in a single season. Will this be the year that we see a sweep?

(Unlimited NewsJournal, August 2007)