Remodelling Offshore Powerboat Racing

A Commerciel Value Structure:

A clear picture:

The story so far, is the recognition that offshore powerboat racing, globally, has degenerated. This has occurred as individual nations, promotors, clubs and factions created alternatives to the original UIM Class structure template. The disparate consequences reflect the essentially amateur nature of the sport.

What also became clear, is the very high speed, multi lap, inshore, sprint-style of racing for cats, became a totally different sport to the original concept, now identified as offshore marathon-style racing, which by nature, tends to favour monohulls. This fact must be firmly acknowledged and the two sectors must each determine the interests, values and future of their respective sport. For reference: there are no monohulls racing in Australia – and there are no cats racing in the UK. And, while I have expressed my views on the degeneration of the sport, I essentially have no issue with either of those structures continuing along their respective paths!

In referencing parallel role-models in professional motorsports, I have used drag-racing and endurance sportscars as examples. The simple facts being, the contrast in style, race strategy, safety requirements and the challenges presented by the two styles, are obviously incompatible.

To both styles of racing, I say: consider carefully the actions of ‘pinnacle’ global motorsports like F1 and the World Endurance car Championship (WEC). Where quality commercial-partners and venues - and a sophisticated fan demographic – expect their sport to demonstrate 21st Century engine and fuel efficiencies - and be “environmentally aware”!

Authentic Offshore Now!

Accepting the foregoing, my focus here is a ‘clean-sheet’ 21st Century makeover of what was the logical, understandable and initially successful structure of ‘offshore’ powerboat racing in its original form. The first move in any remodelling effort, is to approach the challenge with a professional and commercial mindset.

I would propose a substantially knowledgeable and experienced administrative entity that understands, or engages with those who understand, the fundamental physics, technology and nature of offshore powerboat racing. Equally, that entity must comprehend and understand the complex function and values inherent in commercial/sport/media partnerships and synergies. Both factors are essential before considering creation of an organisational strategy for modern offshore powerboat racing.

While I may have gone into greater detail on this, it happens that an impending consultancy commission to assist in a media strategy for a marine related project, is impending. Hang in there, it just may provide the opportunity to develop aspects of the strategy!

What I am happy to do at this stage, is outline some basic technical factors that may be considered in creating a ‘New Era’ Class structure.

A ‘Marketable’ Offshore Powerboat Class Structure:

I am acutely aware of how the clear UIM Class 1, 2, and 3 structure evolved. It fitted the product availability of the era and covered all the bases. As many now agree, that structure should have remained and simply evolved with the times. However, the cat revolution became perhaps the ultimate dilemma – which, as stated, must now be identified as a different sport.

The subdivisions of Class 3 provided good economical and balanced sportsboat racing – again, we have to say, until the cats appeared. The following is a suggestion for the future of ‘monohull only’ Class 3, embracing all outboard sportsboat interests – and keeping it simple!    

Class 3:

The sportsboat levels of the original UIM offshore Class 3A, B, C and D are logical, understandable and potentially marketable. I would suggest the technical rules at each level should be tailored to reflect budgets, from purely production at A and B sportsboat levels to somewhat more specialised hull and outboard technology permitted at the C and D levels. All the existing OCR and random ‘club’ monohull outboard boats really should be accommodated within the class 3 structure. It is what Class 3 was originally created for! It’s also logical to run these classes on relatively sheltered offshore courses. Perhaps as a race/event during the same ‘festival’ as the bigger classes or concurrent with the bigger classes embracing a limited section of the same course (I hesitate to say ‘like it used to be’!).

Actual engine capacity levels may need adjustment relative to current product availability. However, it must be understood that engine power and relevant hull dimensions – length, weight and freeboard – are the most significant factors governing the ultimate safety. For reference, I don’t ever recall a Class 3 monohull fatality. Determined effort should also be made to mandate and homologate only the cleanest available low-emission engines. Ethanol should be encouraged at any available ‘pump’ blend level. These facts should be clear and emphasised in all public marketing.

I should mention that I believe a sterling effort – and great support – is evolving in the UK, to achieve something similar to the above model.  

Class 1, 2 and a ‘P’ Class:

Remodelling true ‘Offshore Powerboat Racing’ and restoring the ‘spirit’ that was somehow hijacked, is the desired outcome here. The sport needs to restore the character that made it so compelling; and the elements, structure and discipline that inspired aspiration and passion. Beyond this, it needs to re-establish a professional image of marine industry representation and product development.

The wider commercial implications demand a vibrant, compelling and colourful image of contemporary technology and values – and a lifestyle that fits the promotional, marketing, PR and media ideals! It needs to project a cool, ‘chic’ lifestyle set against the backdrop of stunning marina and offshore racing imagery! I’ll say again, as yachting does – and I’ll add, but better!

Authentic offshore should obviously embrace technical rules reflecting serious offshore safety considerations. The classes should also be rationalised and represent a ‘real world’ reflection of today’s technology and product availability.  Engine size should be reduced but remain at two levels, reflecting the former Class 1 and 2. In addition, I believe a further class should be included, representing production based sports-cruisers. This visually understandable, three level structure, loosely reflects the proven formula of the WEC sportscars, where the highest technical level is balanced by an affordable level – and supported by the ‘spectator friendly’ production based level.

At each level, engines, drives and installation specifications should reflect, embrace and balance developments, aspirations and budgets – while being in line with the realities of the times. It ticks the boxes at all levels, for participants, fans and media – which in turn presents value for commercial interests.

All decisions need to be cognizant of the sport’s raison d’etre – where, as stated previously: ‘Its charismatic image embraced, not only the challenge of navigation, seamanship and speed - but human and mechanical endurance’. Add a structure and the icons people can relate to; plus an aspirational lifestyle image - and a commercially valuable sport emerges.    

We are seeking, not just the excitement and tension of close racing – but a lifestyle ‘quality’ capturing and embracing the imagination and aspirations of every stakeholder! Only then will commercial interests take serious notice!

A ten-point wish list:

·         Reasonably simple to understand and regulate.

·         Dimensionally seaworthy and safe.

·         Challenging within a safe speed range.

·         Economically viable to wider participation.

·         Embracing a ‘new era’ of environmental responsibility.

·         Balanced and fair but encouraging technical initiative, variety and self-expression.

·         Logistically practical.

·         Conducive to close, competitive and entertaining racing.

·         Commensurate with corporate, host venue, media and public (market) values and expectations.

·         Commercially related to the marine industry, product availability and market realities.

That’s a lot to think about! The next post will examine each ‘wish’ and outline some ‘debatable’ guidelines and suggestions.