2009 Oryx Cup UIM World Championship

J Michael Kelly takes thrilling victory in Oryx Cup UIM World Championship driving the U-7 Graham Trucking:

Steve David captures fourth Unlimited driving title in Qatar

J. Michael Kelly Wins in Graham Trucking
J. Michael Kelly Wins in Graham Trucking
Photo by Jim Collier

DOHA, Qatar - Puyallup, Washington’s J. Michael Kelly, driving Ted Porter’s U-7 Graham Trucking, upset the field to clinch a dramatic late victory in the Oryx Cup UIM World Championship race in fading light in Doha Bay on November 21. It marked the end of one of the most exciting H1 Unlimited races in history and a first H1 Unlimited career win for the Washington state driver.

Steve David, piloting the Oh Boy! Oberto/Miss Madison, secured his second successive H1 Unlimited National High Points Drivers' Championship when Jeff Bernard’s Formulaboats.com crashed out of the first running of the Oryx Cup final.

The race was immediately stopped and David sealed the National High Point Teams' series win and the Martini & Rossi Trophy when arch rival Dave Villwock - who had been the fastest driver on the course over race weekend (151.171 mph, 243.286 k/ph) - suffered a spectacular engine flame-out on the final lap of the restarted race and limped to finish in third place.

At the helm of the U-1 Oberto, David began the final day with a 431-point advantage over Jeff Bernard and secured his fourth drivers' title, despite a dramatic accident in his fourth heat which threatened to derail the title bid.

David did a 360 degree flip in preliminary heat 4A landing right -side up. The boat was only slightly damaged, so H1 Unlimited's safety inspector allowed him in the final heat.

Villwock's Ellstrom E-Lam Plus entry had the day's consolation of a new course race record of 141.417 mph (227.589 km/h) for competition.

The inaugural Oryx Cup final

Miss Peters & May, Our Gang Racing
Miss Peters & May, Our Gang Racing
Photo by Jim Collier

All attention focused on the thrilling six-boat winner-take-all final of the inaugural Oryx Cup UIM World Championship race and to decide the outcome of the National High Point titles. The six boats that amassed the most points in the heats qualified for the final, meaning that, Greg Hopp, Brian Perkins, Ken Muscatel and Mike Webster missed out on the finale.

David and Bernard were set for a head-to-head showdown for the driver title, with Villwock joining the drama in the teams'

battle and all three aiming to claim the prestigious Oryx Cup. Villwock edged in front through lap one, where Nate Brown’s U-17 ground to a halt and Bernard turned too early into the leader's rooster tail and barrel-flipped out of the race for the title. Kelly managed to miss the carnage, but the race was stopped and a delay ensued before the restart.

In fading light, Villwock made the early running in the final from a hard-charging J. Michael Kelly, but a cruel engine flame-out on lap four of five handed the race lead and the inaugural Oryx Cup title to Kelly, as David slipped past in the dying seconds to confirm the National High Point Team title in thrilling fashion.

Qatar's successful first steps into H1 Unlimited racing were a testimony to the hard work put in by both the Qatar Marine Sports Federation (QMSF), under the presidency of His Excellency Sheikh Hassan bin Jabor Al-Thani, and H1 Unlimited officials.

The Oryx Cup marked the first time that H1 Unlimited boats have ever raced outside the Americas and has led to plans for global expansion into 2010 and beyond. Large numbers of international visitors joined an impressive head count of local spectators to witness the thrilling race action.

"I would like to congratulate my team at the QMSF for their efforts in staging this event over the last few days and also pass on my best wishes to all the American teams and international visitors who made the H1 Unlimited race such a success," said Sheikh Hassan. "We hope to see everyone again next year."

Superior Racing
Superior Racing
Photo by Jim Collier

Heat 1A on Friday saw Mike Webster in the U-22 Matrix System Automotive Finishes, Ken Muscatel in the U-25 Superior Racing, J. Michael Kelly in the U-7 Graham Trucking, Jean Theoret in the U-37 Miss Peters & May and Nate Brown in the U-17 Our Gang Racing all lined up in calm conditions for the first heat race of H1 Unlimited and the first race for the circuit outside of North America. Brown stole an early lead, but was quickly passed by Kelly, who came under pressure from Theoret through the opening two laps.

Kelly managed to stay out in front to seal the heat win and 400 points, but bad luck fell upon the yellow boat as Theoret hit a buoy in turn two of the final lap, and was assessed a one lap penalty. This handed second position to Brown, with Webster taking third, Theoret settling into fourth and Muscatel was deprived of fifth when shut the boat down in the backstretch after suffering damage to the bottom of the boat. Muscatel was serving a one-lap penalty for also hitting a buoy earlier in the race. As a result of the damage, the U-25 withdrew for the rest of the day.

Heat 1B

Fastest qualifier Dave Villwock in the U-16 Ellstrom Elam Plus led Jeff Bernard, Brian Perkins in the U-48, Greg Hopp in Fred Leland’s U-100, and National High Points leader Steve David into Heat 1B.

David in the U-1 Oh Boy! Oberto stole the early advantage from Villwock from lane two on the opening stretch of heat IB, but Villwock managed to regain the lead heading into the final turn of lap one and extended his lead from then on, as the defending champion eased his pace to conserve second position and 300 valuable championship points. Bernard finished third, Hopp was fourth and Perkins finished a distant fifth after running an extra lap for jumping the start. Despite the second place finish, David extended his overall championship lead over Bernard to 331 points.

Heat 2A

Matrix System Automotive Finishes
Photo by Jim Collier

Steve David increased his National High Points lead over the U-5 Formulaboats.com and driver Jeff Bernard winning Heat 2A. Bernard's teammate, J. Michael Kelly, Brian Perkins and Mike Webster rounded out the H1 Unlimited field. Bernard held a tight line down the inside into the first turn, only for David to streak into the lead through turn one. From that moment, the U-1 driver extended his lead to clinch the heat and finish the day with 700 final heat qualification points

Bernard maintained second position, Kelly was third, but Perkins pressured Webster for fourth position and moved up the order when Webster’s white U-22 Matrix Systems Automotive Finishes boat pulled up on the final lap.

Heat 2B

U-16 Ellstrom Elam Plus and its driver Dave Villwock survived some rough water and held off a strong charging Jean Theoret in the bright yellow Miss Peters & May to win Heat 2B. Nate Brown in the U-17 Our Gang Racing almost didn't make the start as his boat had difficulty getting started. While floating in middle of the first turn, the U-17 came to life and Brown was able to join the other three boats. Greg Hopp in the U-100 Leland Racing rounded out the four boat field. All four race hulls made the start perfectly and Villwock snatched the early lead from Theoret, only to run wide and bounce on the final turn of lap one and hand a brief advantage to his French-Canadian rival.

He quickly regained the lead and coasted along the two-mile course to claim a second top finish of the day, earning 800 final heat qualification points. Theoret took second place and Hopp snatched third from Brown in the final turn of the fourth lap, using shorter distances of the inside lane to his advantage.

Saturday action: Heats 3A and 3B

Formula Boats.com, Graham Trucking
Formula Boats.com, Graham Trucking
Photo by Jim Collier

Greg Hopp in the U-100, Jeff Bernard in Formulaboats.com, Nate Brown in Our Gang, Jean Theoret in Miss Peters & May, and Mike Webster in Matrix System were drawn in the first of Saturday's four heats in front of a packed crowd in Doha Bay. Webster was forced to miss the start with mechanical issues, but Bernard managed to hold off Theoret through the first turn and maintained the inside line through lap one. He extended his advantage over the subsequent three laps to take the heat victory and reduce David's overall championship lead to a virtual 31 points before heat 3B.

Theoret claimed second position before being docked all his points for a fuel violation, Brown was a distant third before being promoted to second, but Hopp pulled up with engine problems at the end of the opening lap and failed to add to his points' tally.

Steve David, Dave Villwock, Brian Perkins, and J. Michael Kelly filled the grid for a crucial heat 3B, after damage sustained on Friday forced Ken Muscatel’s Superior Racing to miss the final two heats. Villwock held the racing line through the opening turns and managed to pull away from David, who settled into second in a bid to conserve 300 points and a reduced championship lead of 331 points.

Villwock held on take his third heat triumph of the weekend, David was second and Kelly finished third. Perkins was deemed to have made a jump-start and finished a distant fourth after running for an extra lap.

Heats 4A and 4B

J Michael Kelly in Grahama Trucking Returns to Pits
J Michael Kelly in Grahama Trucking Returns to Pits
Photo by Jim Collier

David, Kelly, Perkins and Brown were drawn together in an ill-fated heat 4A. Kelly made a superb start and held David in a stranglehold through lap one, with Brown and Perkins down in third and fourth. But David dramatically flipped the Oberto heading into the wind and a left-hand turn and the U-1 hull miraculously landed upright in the water. David managed to limp back to the race pontoon and the heat was postponed, with David unable to take part in the restart.

Bernard, Villwock and Theoret were entered in heat 4B and David's accident gave the heat a totally more significant meaning. Bernard managed to hold the inside line through lap one, as Villwock applied the pressure and both racers became embroiled in a superb tussle at the front. With Hopp non-starting, Theoret was running as a distant third, but officials announced that both Bernard and Villwock had jumped the flying start and were forced to run an extra penalty lap.

This handed the unlikely win to Theoret and meant that Bernard headed into the Oryx Cup final a mere 106 points behind David's damaged boat, with Villwock a further 424 behind and unable to win the High Points Drivers' Championship, although Ellstrom Elam Plus could still win the Teams' Championship. Kelly dominated the second running of heat 4A after passing Brown shortly after the start, with Perkins collecting 225 points for third position.

[Reprinted from Thunderboat, Jan-Feb 2010]