After a 12-month sabbatical to address the issues around the Covid-19 pandemic, the Penrite Australian V8 Superboats Championship returned to action at arguably the best facility in the world.
The opening round of the 2021 season at Spitwater Arena in Keith where despite some early setbacks for a number of teams, the leading drivers were soon back in the thick of the action – Some, more than others..
Ultimately return victories fell the way of reigning Unlimited Superboat champion Slade Stanley, and new 400-Class pace-setter Justin Roylance, whilst in the burgeoning LS-Class, local driver Matt Malthouse was forced to dig deep after a late assault on the top step of the podium by second-generation drivers Bastian and Nate Mullan, neither of which completed their final runs after some spectacular exits from the circuit.
Sadly they weren’t the only ones, with the biggest exit falling the way of two-time Unlimited Superboat champion Daryl Hutton who suffered a huge off in the opening final, he and long-time navigator Mick Parry end-for-ending into the catch fence in front of the crowd, fortunately without injury, although the same couldn’t be said for the long-suffering ‘Phoenix Lubricants’ ‘Stinger’ hull which may live out the rest of it’s life as soft drink cans.. Time will tell..
Despite falling on the tail end of a national wet weather band which had flooded large parts of Queensland and New South Wales, the 50% chance of rain on race day failed to eventuate, with windy but fine conditions, almost perfect for the teams as they ‘blew out the cobwebs’ with many returning to the track for the first time in more than a year.
There were some notable absences from the field, reigning 400-Class champion Paul Kelly and fellow champions Mark Garlick, Brett Thornton and Ben Hathaway leaving the fight for the top step of the podium to Roylance and Jody Ely, although Hathaway joined the Unlimited field in Matt Malthouse’s LS-Class machine, the three Queenslanders impacted by the fallout of the pandemic and increased work pressures ahead of the event.
Sadly the round took its toll mechanically with both reigning LS-Class champion Kyle Elphinstone and emerging 400-Class star Brendon Doyle suffering mechanical mishaps, joining Daryl Hutton in early retirement.
The big question at the start of the new season was about just how much seven-time Australian Champion Phonsy Mullan had closed down the deficit to reigning title-holder Slade Stanley, the bright yellow ‘RAMJET’ machine having enjoyed the benefit of Mullan’s 12-months sabbatical to think about where he could adjust his new ‘Jetspeed’ package to take the fight to the ‘Hazardous’ team.
Things started well for Mullan who topped the opening qualifying session after Stanley was forced to coast around the closing stages of the lap after failing to put enough fuel in the tank – the driver asked not to contribute to pre-run setup in future, effectively resolving that issue for future runs..
By the close of the four qualifying sessions, Stanley held an advantage of more than 2.2-seconds over Mullan, who in turn was more than a second faster than Scott Krause, who had 2019 Keith winner Mick Carroll, Hutton and Ben Hathaway close behind whilst Mitch Roylance and Glenn ‘Spider’ Roberts were within striking distance, Roberts taking time to dial himself in, the overcast conditions making his compromised vision difficult.
The opening final saw Stanley within eight one hundredths of a second of his best lap to set the bar at a 45.691, Mullan suffering a setback to be more than a second off his best with Scott Krause breathing down his neck, but the big talk was Daryl Hutton’s dramatic off at the bottom of the circuit after running as little as four inches offline, the ‘Phoenix Lubricants’ Stinger end-for-ending off the circuit and into the catch fence.
Fortunately neither driver nor navigator were injured whilst the fans watching from that part of the circuit were stunned to see the boat hanging off the fence in front of them.
The boat was ultimately returned to the trailer and the fence protected from further incidents, as the team lamented the fact that the troublesome hull was more than likely due for the graveyard..
Hutton explained afterwards:
I didn’t realise it was the Top 12 [Final] so I was still making changes to the boat.
I changed the rear stator which changed the steering, we got the first corner but as I set up for the next one I just drifted a little bit wide and caught an outside edge – once that happened, we just became passengers.
We’re okay, the safety devices in these boats work unreal – it’s been coming with this hull though, it’s been a challenge the whole time we’ve owned it, so I think finally now, that might be the end of it..!
With Hutton out the battle for the final positions in the Top 6 saw Carroll, Hathaway, Mitch Roylance and Glenn Roberts looking to fill the final three slots, Roberts in the end failing to progress despite finding half a second, Roylance’s return to the 50s sealing his position whilst Carroll’s 49.9 pushed him onto the tail of Mullan and Krause.
Scott Krause was first out in the final, the co-2018 champion leaving his best till last to record a 48.995 to lay the first benchmark. Like Krause, Mullan too put in his best run of the day, but his improvement was only 64 one thousandths of a second faster than his best, his three finals runs separated by eight one hundredths of a second..
Not surprisingly Stanley (below) emerged last of all for his run, lowering his best of the day by two tenths of a second to claim the win – his first at Keith – with a time of 45.207, 1.8-seconds faster than Mullan.
We had a few issues at the start, but they were quite minor.
We were trying some new [jet unit] blades, they were a bit taller, so we were pushing them at times, but I was happy with the result and the data it gave us.
Mullan explained afterwards:
We made some headway, we went from three seconds back to 1.7 seconds but suffered a few small issues, but I think that with a bit more time we could have gotten down to a 46.5.
I haven’t checked the data, but I think we’ve actually gone faster than we did in the old boat that won the world championship, so if Slade wasn’t here we’d be overjoyed with how fast we were, but he’s here so we have to just keep chipping away.
Do I think we’re tapped out and can’t catch him, no.
We’ve got a few things to work around at the moment, but I think the rest of the season is going to be interesting!
400-CLASS (GROUP A)
With four former champions sitting out the opening 400-Class round, the fight for the top step of the podium was expected to be between ‘Jetspeed’ pilots Justin Roylance and Jody Ely, although it was clear from the moment he arrived in the pit area, that Brendan Doyle was intent on throwing his hat into the ring as a podium contender in 2021, the rebuilt and re-powered ‘The Girlfriend’ package attracting plenty of attention.
With former ‘Stingray’ boat manufacturer and 2017 Unlimited runner-up Tremayne Jukes in his corner for the weekend, Doyle and wife Rory certainly earned top marks for presentation and intent, although sadly they would be early retirements with a technical issue sidelining them ahead of the finals, the immaculate blue boat having set the third fastest time.
With much of the field having endured more than 12 months away from the seat, it was perhaps no surprise that navigational errors and off-track excursions highlighted the early qualifiers, but once sorted the times began to fall with Justin Roylance laying down the benchmark in the third qualifier with a 51.260, Jody Ely not far behind with a 51.886 in Q2, the two teams using a few rotations to test varying setups ahead of the finals.
Despite setting the pace, the ‘Outlaw67’ team did endure one nervous moment in the final qualifier after Roylance ran wide at the top of the circuit, ultimately finding the bank and retirement from the run, fortunately without any more damage than a jet unit full of grass.
Ultimately Greg Harriman would start the first final as the third fastest boat with Brendan Doyle’s retirement, the ‘Apache’ driver qualifying eight tenths of a second up on team-mate Hugh Gilchrist, with Ron O’Day fifth in ‘Agro-Vation’.
Jody Ely laid down the time to beat in the first final, his 51.609 taking the fight to Roylance who opted for a relaxed approach to the opening final, knowing that the worst he could finish was fifth with Brendan Doyle’s retirement, a conservative 58.572 allowing him to just cement the track direction into his head without giving away his true performance..
Sadly, despite the chance to leap up the order, his three rivals all failed to negotiate the track direction ahead of retiring without finding the correct rotation, a decision which saw all three fail to graduate to the second final..
From there Roylance needed little encouragement – a 52.018 giving him the top spot in the second final by more than a second, but he had to dig deep in the final after Ely found seven tenths on his best to set the mark at a 50.987. Roylance (below) responded with an impressive 50.488 for his third consecutive win in the Penrite Series, the ‘Outlaw 67’ team having won the final race of 2019, the only round in 2020, and now, the 2021 season opener..
It started off a little rugged, [I was] a bit rusty there for a while.
We didn’t make any dramatic changes to the boat like we’d normally do, but we were able to put it all together when it counted.
Jody Ely added:
The most important thing is to be there at the end of the day.
I gave it everything I had in the final, so maybe there’s a bit more tuning to do before the next one, but that’s all part of it.
The Keith round of the 2019 season saw just a single entry in the emerging LS-Class, but by season’s end there had been as many as nine boats in the field, with the promise of more on the water for 2020.
Whilst the 2020 season saw just a single round, new boats had emerged with 12 entries at Temora, with more expected to appear during 2021, nine boats entering the season opener, although we’d lost one even before the event started with flooding in northern NSW and southern Queensland preventing Nick Druery and ‘Hazzmat’ from making the round despite their best efforts to navigate swollen rivers.
Despite the setback a strong field made Keith with reigning champion Kyle Elphinstone leading the charge, the ‘Blackout Racing’ team buoyed by the delivery of Ben Hathaway’s championship winning ‘Sprintec’ hull and a revised engine package.
They weren’t the only ones primed and ready, Matt Malthouse back with his ‘NoodNutz Racing’ entry which he was sharing with 2017 400-Class champion Ben Hathaway, Hathaway though campaigning the boat in the Unlimited class, although his addition to the team and the valuable data that provided them would prove of significant value to Malthouse’s efforts to take the fight to Elphinstone.
Another of the teams which made their debut in 2020 was also in attendance, the ‘Ripshift’ entry also hosting two drivers, with second-generation driver Bastian Mullan joined by younger brother Nate, the two teenagers running under the guidance of their seven-time Australian title winning father Phonsy, the reigning world champion admitting his biggest challenge for the weekend would be keeping a lid on sibling rivalry.. it was to be an ominous prediction.
Sadly, despite a solid package to start his title defence, the first retirement was Kyle Elphinstone, the new ‘Blackout Racing’ package out with an engine issue, the drive belt on his new dry-sump setup coming off allowing the engine to run for about eight seconds without oil pressure. The team immediately retired the boat to prevent more serious damage despite having recorded the fastest qualifying time to that point.
Ultimately the top qualifying time would be taken by Bastian Mullan in the second session, the Victorian teenager setting the bar at a 52.962, the next best, rookie Chris Edmonds in his new ‘Aitchison’ hull ‘Solid Gold’ with a best of 58.050 in Q4, Matt Malthouse completing the top three with a 58.840.
Two ‘veterans’ of V8 Superboats also made their competition debut at Keith, Jim Beaman – who had been an integral part of the ‘American Automotive’ team of Daryl Hutton for years – and Bill Biggin, an engine man who had also been in the sport with a number of teams over many years, joining forces in one of Hutton’s old hulls, the pair ‘A’ and ‘B’ driving the boat under the ‘JB Racing’ banner. Cautious to begin with, both qualified for the Top 6 with Beaman just missing a place in the final three.
Arguably the biggest surprise was 2019 Series runner-up Dwayne Mezzadri who suffered a string of navigational errors, in the end the ‘Unleashed’ team failed to be rewarded for driving all the way from the Tweed Coast to Keith, his 1:41.238 lap in the first final well outside of the qualifying benchmark set by Bastian Mullan at a 57.650..
Chris Edmond’s Penrite Series debut saw him setting a string of consistent laps in ‘Solid Gold’, his 58.048 in the Top 12 qualifying him second fastest just four tenths shy of pace-setter Bastian Mullan, but a navigational error in the Top 6 saw him eliminated from what looked to be an almost certain place in the final.
In the end it was Nate Mullan who stunned the field, the 16-year old (his birthday was just a week ahead of the event) finding an impressive seven seconds in the second final to qualify P2, just three tenths slower than pace-setter Matt Malthouse, and almost six tenths faster than his brother who had been the most consistent driver in the field.
Bastian Mullan was first out in the final and it was clear he was intent on turning the table on his brother and take the fight to Malthouse, the ‘Ripshift’ boat cutting a number of corners before finally taking too much grass at the top of the circuit forcing him off and into the hay bales and retirement, fortunately without serious damage.
Matt Malthouse was next out and he had his big home crowd on their feet as he turned in the fastest run of the day, finding 1.7 seconds on his previous best to lay down the mark at a 52.602..
With team-boss Phonsy Mullan making some quick adjustments to the ‘Ripshift’ boat on the ramp, Nate Mullan was strapped in and set to go, the younger of the Mullan brothers charging out the gate with the clear intent of taking the fight to Malthouse, although just like his brother he clipped one too many corners throwing the boat into the air and over an island. It landed back in the water, but despite still running, the impact and the damage to the boat was too great to continue, the victory going to Malthouse and ‘NoodNutz’.
A beaming Matt Malthouse admitted afterwards:
I’m absolutely stoked.
We made a few navigational mistakes early, but then slowed things down and got back into it.
It’s a pity the Mullan boys didn’t finish as it would have been good to see where we all were with respect to lap times, but I’m sure they’ll be back and clearly strong challengers.
The Penrite Australian V8 Superboats Championships continues with round two and the annual ‘Colin Parish Memorial’ at Lake Centenary in Temora for a day/night event on Saturday, May 1.