The 1980’s – cats, diesels and sooty water-lines, evolution in action!
This is what happened:
(Note, this was published in 2019, it is now more relevant than ever!)
Boats were part of my childhood and after watching the very first Cowes-Torquay race,
racing a powerboat became my fantasy. However, graduating through the auto
industry took me into motorsport, which could have been my ultimate destiny.
What it actually did, was give me a good understanding of the professional motorsport
culture and I have to say ‘The Business’!
Reverting back to boats was like coming home; it ultimately enabled the reality of racing
– while earning a living! But, the contrast between the professional culture in
motorsport and the amateur sport of power boat racing was – and has remained,
an issue for me.
This contrast was clearly demonstrated as offshore racing became polarised by the
evolution of catamaran hull designs. I guess I share the view of many who are not
keen on catamaran ‘sprint’ circuit racing being called ‘offshore’. My focus has
always been monohulls in true offshore distance racing – but the transition
period, as these two quite different sports evolved, is where the sport became
confused and contentious.
In analysis, the circumstance now, is very much a consequence of rules,
historically, being unable to keep pace, not only with catamarans but with engine
development, particularly diesels. Class 1 originally allowed 16ltrs petrol or
32ltrs diesel – a rule written when a 6ltr diesel pulled about 300hp, with
luck! The 1980’s decade saw diesel engine outputs virtually double. Suddenly
diesel boats were winning races. At the same time the ‘Raging Bull’ showed up
with V12, twin OHC, 4 valve per cylinder petrol engines, ultimately pushing the
V8 pushrod iron to resort to bigger capacities and forced induction in order to
remain competitive. The parallel cat evolution exacerbated the issue; the sport
became choices: cat or mono; petrol or diesel; and substantial wealth was
required to even think about racing at the top level!
What then evolved, through a path that included the original P1 class (another
story), was that true offshore, became the monohull-only UIM Marathon class –
and that remnant fleet is what the post RYA, UK administration inherited - and
had no option but to try to accommodate! Sadly, trying to please all the
people, all the time, tends to result in compromise, more contention, confused
spectators – and inevitably, fresh opportunities for ‘class’ warfare!
This is what ‘should’ happen:
The welcome revival of true offshore racing in the UK is admirable, enviable and a
great credit to all involved. My observations, pointing out the bizarre
circumstance of more classes than boats, is not criticism, but it is a reality
that has to be addressed. If the era we live in and the evolution of
‘professional’ motorsports over the last decade is acknowledged, the first and
most obvious priority, is to reduce engine capacities. This is actually as
simple as reducing the number of classes – starting with a two year phase out
of the obscene Marathon ‘A’ class 27ltr capacity level. Both morally and
economically the ‘B’ class must be taken out as well and the top level set at 13ltrs.
It was, of course, pointed out to me, quite understandably, that the existing
classes needed to be accommodated - using the metaphor “you can’t put the genie
back in the bottle”. Well actually you can if you phase in the process and then
ultimately create a place of acknowledgement and respect where historic and
obsolete-class enthusiasts can race over a limited distance – and where they
are not confused with the 21st century state-of-the-art offshore
racing technology. Again this acknowledges the proven auto motorsport ‘model’,
of races specifically for those classes.
Think about this; the mid 70’s to early 90’s, which we revere as the ‘classic era’ in
offshore powerboat racing, reached a pinnacle as it embraced the state of the
art hulls and machinery of its time. 8 litre engines were there in full size
trucks and the meanest sportscars, so with volume production and no other
concerns, they were the logical economic, benchmark choice for setting the
capacity level of petrol marine engines. Remember also, in this classic era, we
watched record fleet numbers in just two classes: 8 litre and 16litre
for petrol engines.
We are now approaching 2020 and this is a very different world, a world where all
but the wealthiest capitalists and a few venal politicians, acknowledge that we
are facing both an economic and environmental crisis. Corporate interests –
outside the fossil fuel industries – fear for the future. The world’s biggest
reinsurer – the company that insures insurance companies – just stated that
global warming consequence risks are so high, ordinary household insurance will
be unaffordable within the next decade!
Believe what you like, but civilised society, corporate leaders, knowledgeable
observers and responsible media are questioning how, big-blocks of 8 litre and
beyond, with carburettors or mechanical injection, are condoned at the pinnacle
level of a sport, under national – and indeed international - governing bodies!
The auto industry, pushed to its limit, even in the land of the ‘Big V8’, now
considers 6.2 litres to be the indulgent maximum capacity – and even then only
with increasingly sophisticated electronic injection and catalyst exhausts.
6.2 litres is today’s maximum engine capacity in volume production. These are the
engines of our era. This is the ‘economic’ and environmentally logical, maximum
(twin = 13.5lt) capacity benchmark the sport must now acknowledge and mandate. It
is also a clear opportunity to re-establish, two levels of ‘open’ class competition
– ideally augmented by one or two production class levels. This is how it can
meet all stakeholder expectations and enable the sport to grow.
If true offshore distance racing is to regain the prestige the sport once held, it
cannot present a ratbag assembly of ‘run-what-you-brung’ amateur hot-rods with
dinosaur engines! Wealth must not be permitted to buy an obsolete class to run
in. Those who seriously love and revere the sport for its true values, will
make the transition.
The sport must now move forward and embrace the era we live in. It can equally, but
separately, celebrate the past in a truly responsible way, with pride and true
conviction. But above all, it must break the ‘amateur’ notion that you can
please all the people all the time, if it’s to reach that pinnacle again!
For each A or B team displaced by dropping those classes, there will be two teams who
will have the motivation and budget to come in and race in the top class, on a
level playing field - and the sport will grow. Equally, a sport with logical,
‘understandable’ and responsible classes that the public, media and corporate partners
can relate to, will also get wider marine industry support - and maybe even start
to look ‘professional’!
Embrace the Future:
I understand the UIM is reviewing the current, ten year old Marathon Class rules.
My view is that there are three key issues to address if a ‘new-era’ Marathon
Class is to reflect and even exceed the pinnacle of the ‘classic’ era which so
many now revere and yearn for.
The fact is, professional motorsports acknowledge the realities that in turn: encourage
engagement (realistic economics), present value (for commercial support) and
meet society expectations (environmental responsibility). They do this because
they want their sport to develop mainstream recognition, respect, interest and
status – which in turn, brings commercial and media value.
Marathon racing must evolve and a review should also create the opportunity to bring
many of the former international powerboating nations back into an agreed
global structure. It is a huge opportunity to elevate true ‘offshore’ racing toward
a resumption of its status as the legitimate, premier level, national and true international
‘World Championship’ status in offshore powerboat racing.