Offshore Powerboat Racing - A Professional Model

Le Mans Prototype (LMP) and GT cars start and endurance race

Facing the Issue:

If you didn’t boil over with bile and venom after my last post – and you remain curious as to what I will say next, let’s continue to reflect, before ultimately trying to find a solution. If you didn’t read it, now is the time, then the following may make more sense.

My last paragraph was:

I’ll trust that if you have read this far you may understand where I’m coming from. The bottom line is ‘amateur’ just isn’t good enough. The sport must be seen to be ‘professional’ in attitude if it’s ever to regain credibility.

So, let’s look more closely at what ‘professionalism’ is, using F1 and WEC as ‘example’ role models.

Formula 1:

F1 became the biggest TV sport in the world, essentially because it was guided (OK, dominated) by a guy who understands the cars, the engineering, the drivers, the teams and most of all, ‘the business’!  Understanding all aspects is critical because it enables decisions to be made that make sense to everyone – not just gratification for the few who can afford the biggest guns, which globally, is exactly where offshore powerboat racing is now.

Can we dare to make some comparisons?

Over the last twenty or so years, F1 has recognised its place in the scheme of things. Yes, it’s an entertaining sport and the heroes are cool but ultimately it’s an engineering sport and the vast investments made by the chassis and engine manufacturers represent the leading edge of automotive development. The automotive and non-automotive sponsors who fund the ‘vast investment’ recognise this and aspire to align their ‘brand’ with this fact and share the ‘leading edge’ image. They are prepared to invest very heavily to be there, firmly inside the elite world of ultimate automotive technology – and of course, its heroes. This simple fact is both the reason we love it – and it’s what pays for the sport to remain there at the pinnacle.

Recognising this economic reality, F1 gradually aligned itself with the expectations at this level of corporate investment. The sport needed to discipline itself, to ensure it would uphold those expectations. Its public image, economic responsibility and its safety record, needed to be refined. Engine capacity (naturally aspirated) was progressively reduced to 2.4ltr. Then an even greater obligation came along - ‘Environmental Responsibility’! The onus now was not only on corporate expectations but the governments and cultures within the nations (economies) that host F1 races.

The teams knew it was coming, but during the 2013 season it was formally announced that F1 would reduce engine capacity to 1.6ltr. The specification includes turbocharging but also mandates strict limits on the type and the amount of fuel per race. I have repeated the following statement many times – because it says everything that offshore powerboat racing needs to understand. The reason stated for the new capacity limit being: “In order to make Formula One more environmentally aware and to attract more commercial partners”.

Remember, this is a global view, not a USA view!

Think about it, automotive development today is heading toward progressively smaller engines, turbocharging is more common, fuel consumption and exhaust emissions are a fraction of those twenty years ago. Virtually every technical feature in your car today was developed from top-level motor-racing. F1 recognised the obligation to align with a responsible ‘world’ view – not simply running with the desires of a wealthy minority, who must have the biggest gun!

Can we dare to compare this with top-level offshore powerboat racing where two archaic 8ltr+ petrol engines or the dirtiest available four-stroke outboards are considered ‘state of the art’? And dare I mention speeds – and fatalities?

I could rest the case right there but I know the counter arguments, so maybe we should consider a few more factors.

We need to recognise that offshore powerboat racing has inevitably followed the lead of the USA – this is understandable because most of the product used in the sport emanates from that country.

The simple facts are:

The US marine industry builds marine engine product essentially for the US market, the rest of the world can take it or leave it. There are no significant manufacturers of (inboard) petrol marine engines outside the US.

The US paradigm of engine size (cubic inches) is different to the rest of the world – with the exception perhaps of some wealthy middle-eastern countries.

Against this entrenched culture came the eventual realisation within society, that economics and air pollution demanded change. So the pressure came on governments (even in the USA) to be the spoil-sports and clamp-down on marine engine exhaust emissions,  encouraging more modern technologies – again reflecting circumstances in the automotive industry.  Some in the marine industry are responding; for example, Volvo-Penta no longer include a ‘Big-Block’ 8ltr+ petrol marine engine in their range – and all the leading brands now offer catalyst exhaust (petrol) and Tier-3 compliant (diesel) engines – which are now the only permissible engines in many markets.

We can assume Volvo-Penta market research suggests their 6.2-litre direct injection engine producing 430hp - is an entirely adequate maximum size for the market in marine petrol engines. Equally, modern diesel engines in the 3-litre range producing 220 to 280hp are progressively becoming the backbone of the consumer market – while diesels in the 4 to 5–litre range are taking the place of big-block petrol engines.

So where in the marine industry or ‘real world’ is the relevance of 8+ litre petrol engines? Even the ‘supercar’ auto sector is now acknowledged as a miniscule market and an obscene, wasteful and indulgent technical blind alley!


The World Endurance Cars are perhaps a more comparable role model, presenting as they do, a direct relationship with the auto industry – in image, style of racing, and technical relevance. Exactly as offshore powerboat racing should have a direct relationship with the marine industry.

(For reference, yacht racing does exactly that and thrives!)

Again the WEC technology is focussed on winning with a limited fuel allowance, not an option to be considered for ‘offshore’ racing, but such restrictions spawn incredible developments and efficiencies that find their way into auto production - and some ultimately to the marine sector. Consider a total of over 900hp available from a 2ltr engine combined with electric power when accelerating! A development here being the turbo/generator which will inevitably be a marine diesel solution for low rpm torque, within the next few years.

Again, compare this to the current farcical Class-1 boat, where forced induction engines of 8+litre each, may have power potential as high as 1,300hp but in a bizarre token gesture to economics and safety are restricted to 850hp – and of course, there are two of them! In efficiency terms, utterly ludicrous from any perspective outside its own bubble!

It’s worth a quick visit to www.fiawec.com to check out what is now called the ‘World Endurance Championship’ (WEC). It is perhaps a model of what offshore powerboat racing could be in terms of class structures. I love the description of the production based GT cars, being “a car having an aptitude for sport”… but, “can be legally driven on the roads”.

This is precisely how I have, hitherto, presented the comparison with sportscruisers – wish I had thought of: ‘a boat with an aptitude for sport’ – love it! The specific classes and variety make it interesting and the race distances make it challenging, it’s an interesting role-model – and of course, the little guys can beat the big guys if they are good enough!

For reference: The USA equivalent sanctioning body is ‘International Motor Sport Association’ (IMSA) – in this case, ‘international’ means all of North America! True to form, the desire to please all the people all the time makes their website and class structures hard to get your head around, but the basics are the same; true race cars are ‘Prototypes’ and production based road cars are ‘GT’s’. Check out www.imsa.com but don’t try to understand it!   

Now let’s get some perspective here, I am not for one moment suggesting, at this stage, that offshore Powerboat racing has quite the technology role in the marine engine industry that F1 or WEC has with the auto industry. BUT, there is huge scope for the sport to be reflecting and promoting the state of the art developments in the marine power industry. Whereas at present, the image and technology in offshore powerboat racing is clearly in complete contempt, or just plain ignorance of its own industry - or indeed the real world!

Environmental contempt, particularly when fuelled by apparent overt affluence, is a strong negative image. Add an obvious danger element and it will be observed and questioned – justifiably or not!  

Just imagine you are a smart, marketing executive with a substantial budget, working within a multinational corporation, or you are a shrewd marketing agent with a substantial corporate client; maybe you are a tourism executive at a potential venue – imagine any exec role involving a decision on supporting, hosting or using a clean and classy sport as a marketing avenue. Your obvious assessment of today’s offshore powerboat racing would be: you are kidding, that’s “more than my f…..g job’s worth”, a million times over!

That, my friends, would be the equally negative view of the public - assuming you can find someone interested enough to have an opinion on it!

I believe the extreme form of circuit style pseudo-offshore powerboat racing will continue to exist while it has enthusiasts and venues willing to support it – certainly in the US - just as auto motorsport has drag racing. However, without substantial changes it will remain an irrelevant amateur sport and one thing is certain – it’s not ‘Offshore Powerboat Racing’!

The European position is a little different, in that monohulls and distance races have hung on precariously – clinging to a couple of races and a ‘please everyone’ class structure. There are signs of enthusiasm in the UK but still the very thing I am talking about – professionalism - is conspicuously absent, so I’m not holding my breath!

So where to from here?

Just wait, I’m far from finished!