After an epic battle between two champions that came all the way down to the final run of the Penrite UIM World Series, Phonsy Mullan finally claimed the one title he had been working so hard to achieve, a world championship crown, the Australian weathering the storm from 7-time world title holder Peter Caughey to become world#1.
Just as things had played out at Keith in South Australia just a week prior, Mullan and Caughey were the standouts in Cabarita although this time around they had some challengers, one of which was Australia’s 2-time world champion Slade Stanley, the former Group A star ultimately setting the fastest qualifying time.
Going into the final three though, it was once more Mullan, Caughey and fellow New Zealander Nick Berryman who would fight it out for the title. Berryman was quick, but couldn’t match the two multiple champions, Mullan laying down his fastest run of the day to force Caughey to deliver his best. Sadly for the 11-time NZ champion, his steering wheel came unlocked midway through his run steering him up and over an island and into retirement, the 30-year veteran of the sport admitting afterwards that, that would be his final lap of competition in what had been an incredible career.
Whilst the battle for Unlimited Superboat honours had the fans captivated, Ollie Silverton continued to decimate the Group A field, the New Zealander never really challenged on his way to a clean sweep of both rounds to claim his maiden world title, and like Mullan, add a world crown to his national title to cap off an outstanding year.
UNLIMITED SUPERBOATS – QUALIFYING
The word coming into the Tweed Coast Jet Sprint facility ahead of the second round of the Penrite UIM World Series was the perceived advantage the Australians would have given their intimate knowledge of the Cabarita track. Whilst that theory was ultimately provided by the international teams, it was pretty clear that like any form of sport at the top level, the best can quickly adapt, and that’s exactly what they did..
The biggest surprise on day one at Cabarita though wasn’t the pace of 7-time Australian champion Phonsy Mullan or 7-time world champion Peter Caughey, but rather the performance of 2-time world Group A champion Slade Stanley, the Wagga-based builder delivering a 56.200 in Q2 to end the day as fastest qualifier.
Stanley had found his mojo after sitting out most of the last two seasons to focus on business and family, but was now back right where he wanted to be, controlling the pace from the front. Sadly though, despite laying down the fastest qualifying time of the weekend, an error in the first final kept him from a place in the final three, much to the frustration of the huge Cabarita crowd on the hill.
Like Keith, the Cabarita rotation was causing all sorts of navigational nightmares, whilst for others the woes were even greater, teams like Paul Gaston’s ‘Heatseeker’ and the Welch family’s ‘Natwel Racing’ forced to withdraw from the event with mechanical failure, Gaston suffering the indignation of a third straight head gasket failure, whilst the Welch’s were forced to battle ongoing exhaust issues, but were finally stalled by a broken jet unit.
Sadly New Zealander Scott Donald too was continuing to strike trouble with his new ‘Wicked II’ package, after making just one qualifying run at Keith he managed two at Cabarita, but both suffered navigational issues as the team battled to combat technical challenges.
By Sunday morning things were starting to get interesting..
Phonsy Mullan did what he’d done so many times in the last few seasons of the Australian championship by lowering the mark at the front of the field – he wasn’t able to break Slade Stanley’s stunning Q3 best of 54.607, but nor did he need to, knowing his greatest threat for a world title were New Zealanders Peter Caughey and Nick Berryman.
Caughey meanwhile was battling to perfect the rotation, both he and Berryman kicking off the day with ‘wrong-ways’ allowing Mullan to set a 56.419, but by Q4 things looked markedly different, Mullan facing a rare DNF after an electrical failure stopped him dead whilst on another strong run, but it was Caughey – who was faced with the possibility of failing to qualify – who stunned the field, setting a 54.687 to be just eight one thousandths slower than Stanley.
By the final qualifier a number of Australians were starting to make their intentions felt, amongst them co-AUS#1 Scott Krause who finally nailed the rotation to be almost a second faster than season rival and co-title holder Phonsy Mullan and Glenn ‘Spider’ Roberts who had been a sensation at Cabarita just a couple of months back to narrowly lose the round win to Mullan.
Superboats rookie Michael Cunningham too was impressive in the reliveried ‘True Blue’ the experienced Sprintcar driver setting a stunning 56.734 to end qualifying just a quarter of a second slower than Mullan and comfortably inside the top six.
Daryl Hutton too was back in the mix just behind Cunningham and Roberts, but just clear of Mick Carroll (Excalibur), Baden Gray (The Specialist) and Tremayne Jukes (Maniac), the top ten boats covered by 3.6-seconds, with less than two seconds covering the distance between Mullan and Jukes – it was tight at the top.
Behind the top ten it was just as close, Nick Berryman – who was holding third in points had endured a tough qualifying run to just make the cut for the first of the elimination finals, whilst the giant-killing efforts of Rachael Swarts continued, although the West Australian team were lamenting another technical issue and were forced to sit out the final qualifier in order to rest the engine ahead of the finals, although she still set the 12th fastest time.
Local hero Daniel de Voigt (Devo Racing) was continuing his giant-killing efforts, the former national 350-Class champion sitting inside the bubble to return to the finals clear of Tony Giustozzi (Excalibur), but behind them there were more tales of woe with both Kyle Patrick and Jamie Welch making the cut, but unable to make a start..
Patrick had been finding his feet on the testing rotation, but he’d also handed the ‘Psycho Racing’ machine across to Paul Gaston in order for the Australian to qualify, sadly he missed out after beaching the American boat in the final qualifier, whilst Patrick was finally forced to retire after his final run with a mechanical failure, whilst Welch had been forced to retire the Natwel entry on Saturday afternoon.
They weren’t the only ones forced to sit out the finals – despite qualifying – with just 16 teams progressing, six would be forced to watch the event unfold from the bank.
After a big off at Keith and a subsequent rebuild, ‘Quality Time’s’ Simon Cain missed the cut by an agonising four tenths of a second to join Paul Burgess (Daly Transport), Cheryl Welch (Natwel Racing), Paul Gaston and Scott Donald whilst one of the pre-series favourites Rob Coley also failed to progress to the finals.
With access to as many as three boats, the ‘Poison Ivy’ star – a podium finisher at Cabarita during the Penrite Australian series – suffered a litany of issues across the weekend, the worst of which was an ongoing electrical issue which kept shutting his powerful twin-turbo Nissan engine down. At one point the New Zealander was forced to circulate in Scott Krause’s ‘KAOS’ machine just to get the navigation right in his head as his team worked feverishly to resolve the issue – sadly they were unable to effect the repairs needed on site ahead of the cut-off for the finals.
UNLIMITED SUPERBOATS – FINALS
After finishing day one on top and beating Peter Caughey to the fastest time in qualifying, the fans were keen to see just how far Slade Stanley could push the favourites in his return to competitive jetboating.. Sadly the answer was the first elimination final..
Sitting in the boat for a lengthy period as the safety crew recovered one of his rivals after an off mid-lap, Stanley admitted he was getting hotter and hotter behind the wheel in the 34 degree heat, a challenge which had a big affect by the time he hit the track making a rare navigational error. Sadly he just couldn’t perfect the rotation putting the boat into the spinout pool in frustration to end what had been an epic performance in a much less powerful boat.
Ultimately he would not be the only boat to make a wrong turn, Baden Gray and Peter Caughey also striking trouble although Caughey lost very little time. Gray was sitting on the bubble and with Stanley’s retirement needed just one more boat to miss the mark with the retirements of Natwel Racing and Kyle Patrick’s ‘Psycho Racing’ machine. Tragically the final victim was Michael Cunningham, the ‘True Blue’ pilot comfortably within reach of the third final before his throttle cable became jammed forcing him to abort what had been a terrific World Series debut, a frustrating end to a brilliant rookie season.
With Gray now embedded in the final 12 the focus returned to the front of the field with Phonsy Mullan having set the pace for just the second time on the weekend, but typically he did it when it was needed, his 55.843 though just two tenths of a second faster than long-time rival Daryl Hutton with ‘Excalibur’s’ Mick Carroll continuing to impress with the third fastest time for an Australian 1-2-3.
Mullan was his consistent best in the second final, his 56.042 a couple of tenths slower than his Top 16 time, but half a second clear of Scott Krause, but it was Peter Caughey who stopped the clocks with the best time of the day – his 54.523 a second and a half faster than the field who knew they’d need to find something pretty special in the final two runs.
Daryl Hutton was next quickest from Glenn Roberts, with Nick Berryman making the cut after Baden Gray’s ‘The Specialist’ dropped to seven cylinders after an electrical failure cut out an injector, the team though still circulating to record a time just half a second shy of their NZ rivals.
Sadly, the second final saw two of the most dramatic retirements of the day, both occurring within a metre or so of each other, and on the same corner – AND in the same team!
Tony Giustozzi was first to go, the South Australian pushing hard in ‘Excalibur’ but a wide entry to ‘Benny’s’ at the top corner of the circuit in front of the crowd – saw him run wide and up the bank into a tyre wall that was protecting the earth bank. The impact was sudden and did some superficial damage to the boat, but ‘Stoz’ was out. The team recovered the boat and set it again for Mick Carroll who incredibly came off in exactly the same way, hitting the tyres just a short distance along from where his team-mate had gone in – the two popular Unlimited race winners forced out of the final six.
Tremayne Jukes sadly joined them too, the Melbourne-based team patching the ‘little’ supercharged 302 Windsor together for a final run after shredding a blower belt in the Top 16, his final run tragically featuring a retirement but the team had done enough to again show why they are rated as one of the best in the country.
Rachael Swarts too was forced to just circulate and record a time, the team admitting that they were suffering mechanically for the second week in a row despite comfortably making the final 12, it was a gallant effort from the West Australian team who showed that they have the pace to race with the best in the world and with reliability will be a difficult team to ignore.
Daniel de Voigt too concluded his World Series, the Queenslander one of the best stories of the 2018 season having recorded fifth in the Penrite Australian and eighth in the Penrite UIM World Series campaigns, a stellar job for a team racing to a budget against the best teams in the world.
With two New Zealanders and four Australians making the final, things were going to be interesting. Phonsy Mullan again set the bar low, running a consistent 55.876, just three one hundredths off his Top 16 best. Peter Caughey though was all about stamping his authority on the Series, his jaw-dropping 54.271 two tenths faster than his Top 12 time and still a second and a half up on his title rival to comfortably make the final.
Nick Berryman found half a second on his best of the day but was still slower than some of his Australian rivals, although that situation sadly took care of itself pretty quickly..
Daryl Hutton was on a flier in the final, punching out some of the fastest splits of the day, but tragically within sight of the flag, his new twin-turbo machine finally gave in, the expat Kiwi forced to retire within sight of a finals return.. Sadly he wasn’t the only one, Scott Krause too set a blistering opening leg, but a failure at the rear of the boat as he came to the line saw a fire develop – the crew were okay, but fuel lines and electrics were damaged beyond repair forcing their retirement handing Nick Berryman a path into his second Worlds final.
And so there were three..
Should Caughey claim the fastest time in the final, he would take his eighth world crown. Should Mullan win and Caughey place second, there would be a tie and a shootout for the title, should either falter, it would be game over, although the worst either could finish would be third – they both however needed to be mindful of Nick Berryman.
Berryman was first out with Caughey electing to run last. An impressive weekend best of 56.565 put his rivals on notice. Mullan returned serve with a 54.809, a full second faster than his Top 6 time and his fastest of the weekend.
Caughey rolled out for his final lap knowing he’d need to deliver and he set a blistering first split, but halfway around, the boat suddenly struck an island and launched itself into the air and retirement.
A subdued Mullan had given it his all and was standing by his trailer when the reality of the incident hit home – he was the new World champion.
After a tough year emotionally with as many challenges away from the circuit as on it, Mullan’s dream of a world title had come true, the determined Victorian – who unlike many of his rivals – builds almost every single part of the ‘RAMJET’ package finally claiming the coveted world#1 against the best in the sport, the emotion of which was not lost on any of the tight-knit crew.
For Caughey, the defeat was hard to swallow, the 7-time world title holder falling one-point shy of the title to claim second, the driver who had been the benchmark of the sport for more than ten years explaining that his steering wheel had come unlocked in his hands mid lap giving him no control over the #68 Sprintec machine. His next revelation just as shocking, Caughey explaining that his DNF would be his final ever competitive lap as a driver, announcing his immediate retirement to focus on family and business.
INTERNATIONAL GROUP A – QUALIFYING
With a perceived advantage coming into Cabarita over the might of the New Zealand juggernaut led by Ollie Silverton, the Australian Group A teams went into the second round of the Penrite UIM World Series with a renewed sense of purpose.
They were further buoyed by the performance of Ben Hathaway, the Victorian pushing his borrowed boat to the number one qualifying position in Q1 to lead fellow former champion Jake Garlick (Grumpy), the two young stars using their strong local knowledge to trump the New Zealanders.
Sadly for Hathaway though that was about it for the man who finished fourth in Keith, the big ‘Green Machine’ calling it a day by the close of Q2 with terminal engine failure, a sad end to what had started so perfectly, the former AUS#1 having all but worked himself into world title contention.
Ultimately Paul Kelly (4Zero Racing), Mark Garlick (Grumpy) and Daniel James (JRE Race Engines) would be joined by Ollie Silverton inside the top six for the first qualifier, the New Zealander though putting all thoughts of track advantage well into the background with a stunning 58.064 in Q2, a full two seconds faster than the next best driver, 3-time Australian champion Jake Garlick.
It was game on!
By the close of Saturday’s two qualifiers, Silverton was comfortably quickest, with Sean Rice finding a staggering seven seconds in Q2 to be fourth fastest behind Paul Kelly and marginally clear of newly crowned AUS#1 Mark Garlick. Unfortunately for former US-champion Ron Domoe, his tales of woe with his new Jetspeed hull continued, the American struggling with visibility because of the placement of the roll cage, a scenario which made Cabarita’s low islands difficult to traverse, an error running him down the start chute – although at very much reduced speed – seeing him disqualified under UIM rules. Having travelled as far as he had though, organisers agreed to let him complete the qualifiers, although his run of tough luck continued into day two.
Come Sunday morning the day dawned hot and sunny with teams battling not just the rotation but the heat whilst they were strapped in waiting on the ramp, heat which in some cases had a big effect on performance.
One driver battling the elements was Daniel James, the Cabarita round winner in August struggling to record a lap to sit dangerously close to the cut off for the first final, in the end a laboriously slow 73-second lap in the final session seeing him classified tenth and with everything to play for once eliminations started.
Up front though Ollie Silverton had clearly enjoyed a good night’s sleep, the New Zealander continuing to push his rivals outside their comfort zone, his 56.858 in Q3 ultimately the fastest qualifying time.. by just under two seconds..!
Sadly for Team Australia one of the first to stumble was the man who had wowed the fans at Keith with his aggressive display of driving to claim a podium finish – Justin Roylance. He’d strung it all together in Q3 after a tough opening day to set the fourth fastest time again hot on the heels of the kiwis, but in Q4 whilst on another blistering lap, it all came to a sudden halt with a broken camshaft dropping him to two cylinders, a tragic end to what had been a career-defining run in South Australia.
By the close of qualifying, it was an NZ 1-2 with Silverton comfortably clear of Rice, with a recovering Paul Kelly third, the local hero having suffered an electrical issue in Q3 which kept him from making the water, but by the final qualifier he was just half a second shy of Rice and six tenths clear of Jake Garlick. The retired Ben Hathaway was classified next fastest, ahead of Jody Ely (Rampage) and Ross Travers (Radioactive), the third of the New Zealanders looking to find some pace ahead of the finals to defend his second place in the championship points.
Mark Garlick claimed the ninth fastest qualifying time, the 4-time Australian champion not looking to have the pace that took him to the 2018 title, although he was still quicker than fellow title-holders Daniel James and Brett Thornton (2Obsessed) with Mitch Roylance (Blackjack) holding on to a top 12 time after earning a reprieve from his engine failure at Keith to land Sam Everingham’s ‘Arkham Asylum’ for the second round.
On the bubble heading into the Top 16 final were Shane Brennan (Ynot), Peter Monger (Mongrel) – who earlier in the day had been honoured for his services to the Cabarita Club – Darrin Kesper (Let’s Boogie) and Tony Whalan (Ynot).
Sadly with 18 boats in the field, two would fail to qualify for the finals, with Mike Llewellyn joining fellow American Ron Domoe on the sidelines to watch proceedings unfold.
INTERNATIONAL GROUP A – FINALS
The first elimination final saw Ollie Silverton’s only blemish in an almost perfect weekend, but sadly for his rivals, despite dropping three and a half seconds on his best, he was still the fastest boat on the water, the PSP Racing machine though just 15 one hundredths quicker than Sean Rice and only a quarter of a second faster than Jake Garlick.
Sadly for his rivals, by the Top 12 he’d rediscovered his pace, finding just under three seconds to once more street the field.
Daniel James was the big mover in the first final to be fourth, mere hundredths slower than Jake Garlick, but with Mark Garlick and Jody Ely hot on his tail.
For Paul Kelly though, there was to be no ‘Hollywood’ finish at his home circuit, the local Marine Electrician making a rare navigational error whilst comfortably again within reach of the leaders, in the end, he pulled out of his run and put the boat back on the trailer for an early end to what had been an impressive season.
In the end he was joined by Tony Whalan, the Australian-based US competitor failing to finish whilst on his best run of the day, leaving just 12 competitors to contest the second final.
Unfortunately for Darrin Kesper and Kayla Foote, their impressive weekend came to a sudden end early in the Top 12, an off at the back of the circuit after clipping the bank putting the ‘Let’s Boogie’ machine hard into the bank, an impact which immediately saw medical staff on the scene, the experienced safety crew also aiding the team with Kesper diagnosed with a knee injury, and Foote with bruising. It had been a big hit, but the safety elements of the sport had done their job. Sadly for the ‘Let’s Boogie’ Aitchison hull, it might see an early retirement.
Ultimately just three boats would go sub-60 seconds, Silverton, Rice and the impressive Jake Garlick continuing to lead the charge, with Ross Travers, Daniel James and Jody Ely filling the top six to progress through to the third final, Mitch Roylance a brilliant seventh, the former Australian ‘rookie-of-the-year’ falling an agonising four tenths of a second shy of a berth in the final six despite campaigning a borrowed boat!
Joining Mitch Roylance in retirement were Mark Garlick, Brett Thornton and the impressive Peter Monger and Shane Brennan.
Sadly for Jake Garlick, his weekend ended in the top six with an almost certain podium finish within reach, his slowest run of the weekend dropping him to sixth, although the result cemented a top four world series finish. He was joined in the end by Jody Ely who improved his best of the weekend, although he admitted that there was nothing much left, fifth in the World Series after losing his primary engine on day one at Keith a worthy reward for the Victorian.
Ultimately it was Daniel James though who would upstage Ross Travers in the Top 6, the former 350-Class champion turning in a 60.087 to defeat the New Zealander by sixteen one hundredths of a second to make the final, much to the delight of the big local crowd.
For James though, he had his work cut out for him, the JRE Race Engines driver six tenths slower than Rice, and a staggering 1.8-seconds slower than Silverton who was not releasing the pressure, the New Zealander lowering the bar again in the final to an incredible 56.672, just a tenth slower than Nick Berryman who claimed second in the Unlimited class!
James put in his best to record a 60.139, the Victorian clearly with little left, his final three runs separated by just two tenths of a second! Sean Rice held the Australian out for second, but could do nothing about Silverton, James though awarded world#3 in the end after a challenging start in Keith, just reward for the tight-knit young team from Shepparton.