Plenty of zipp
By TERRY TOMALIN
© St. Petersburg Times,
CLEARWATER -- Jay Pilini knew that if he built a fast boat, sooner or later, he would find a place to race it.
"The 36-footer was originally designed as a leisure boat," the Clearwater boat builder said. "It was sort of after the fact that we decided to race it."
The Spectre catamaran, Zipp Express, made its racing debut last year in the Super Boat International series and took top honors in the Limited and Factory III classes. This year, driver Neil Wobbe and throttleman Dan Francis moved to the more competitive American Power Boat Association Offshore circuit. They'll be hoping to add an APBA national title to their racing resumes this weekend in St. Petersburg.
After a relatively slow start in the new Super Cat Light class, Zipp Express came on strong late in the season. At the fifth race of the season in Cleveland, Wobbe and Francis missed first by two seconds after nearly an hour of racing. Then, a few weeks later, the duo won the next national race in Ontario, moving the team to the third spot in the national rankings.
"Super Cat Light is proving to be one of our most competitive classes," APBA chairman Michael Allweiss said. "That could be one of our tightest races on Sundays."
For two years, the APBA's Factory (I and II) and Super series (Super Cat and Super Vee) have been the fan favorites. But this year, the new Super Cat Lights, with twin 500 HP engines and speeds in excess of 100 mph, haved provided some of the best racing.
Team Tellium, a 36-foot Skater built by Michigan-based Douglas Marine, has won two of the last six races. Driver Gary Heon and throttleman John Kiely are ranked first in the APBA national standings. California-based How Sweet It Is, a 36-foot Eliminator piloted by Brent Leach and throttled by John Peterson, has consistently placed at the top of the pack and is ranked second.
But the Spectre is rumored to be the fastest cat in the seven-boat Super Cat Light fleet. If the water is rough on Sunday, the Team Tellium Skater will have the advantage. But if the bay is smooth, Zipp Express will get a chance to display the speed that set a kilo run record (112.919 mph) in Sarasota this summer. A win could give Wobbe and Francis the points they need for the national title.
"Neil and Dan haven't been racing in the boat that long," Spectre founder Pilini said. "But we think that if given the right conditions, we are as fast as any boat out there."
Pilini has been building boats locally for nearly 20 years. He started off making center-console fishing boats, got bored and switched to high-end catamarans in the early '90s.
"Go to any race and the cats steal the show," Pilini said. "They are sleek, fast and look good."
Big catamarans are the vehicles of choice for poker run enthusiasts looking for speed in performance in a recreational boat.
"Zipp Express is a partially canopied boat with a rear seat that can go both ways," Pilini said. "All you do is put a hatch over the seat and you are ready to race."
Pilini said he will wait to see how the Super Cat Light class grows after the 2001 season before he decides whether his Clearwater boat works will come out with a 40-footer to compete in the APBA's premier class, Super Cat.
"It is a big investment gearing up for something like that," he said. "But that seems to be the direction that we are moving."
2001 APBA Offshore National Championships
WHERE: Pier and Vinoy Park, St. Petersburg.
TODAY: 9 a.m.-6 p.m., Powerboats in Paradise, Dry Pits Festival in Vinoy Park; 5-9:30 p.m., the Thrusters, Dave Soreff & Coral Reef Revue, Straub Park.
SATURDAY: 9 a.m.-9:30 p.m., Dry Pits Festival; 11 a.m.-9 p.m., Taste of the Races, Straub Park; 1 p.m., offshore race; 3 p.m., offshore race; noon-9:30 p.m., Johukame's Posse, Conquering Lion, Landsharks, Straub Park.
SUNDAY: 9 a.m.-6 p.m., Dry Pits Festival, Vinoy Park; 11 a.m.-5 p.m., Taste of the Races, Straub Park; 1 p.m., offshore racing; 3 p.m., offshore racing; 1-6 p.m., Island Boys, Conch Critters, Straub Park.
ETC: A special viewing area will be set up at the Pier. Admission is $5 each day. Go to www.apbaoffshorenationals.com.
-- Compiled by Terry Tomalin.
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