Next to its annual Offshore World Championship in Key West, Fla., Super Boat International’s Sarasota (Fla.) Suncoast Super Boat Grand Prix is SBI’s biggest race in any given season.
Thanks to its long history—this year’s race will mark the event’s 30th anniversary—and a number of offshore powerboat racers who call Sarasota home, the race typically attracts a larger field than the popular and still-growing SBI Nationals in nearby Clearwater, Fla., in September.
Scheduled for July 3-6, the 2014 Sarasota Grand Prix isn’t just shaping up to have another big turnout, but to offer excellent battles in several offshore racing classes. Here are four categories that are looking hot and worth watching.
Superboat Unlimited: If current plans hold, Miss GEICO and Gasse will be the most likely teams to finish first and second in this piston-engine-powered catamaran class. Both boats are running twin 1,650-hp engines from Mercury Racing. Both have first-place finishes to their credit this season—Gasse took the season-opener in Charlotte Harbor, Fla., while Miss GEICO claimed victory at the next race in Cocoa Beach.
Superboat Stock: Based in the Sarasota/Bradenton area, The Hulk/Redline Oil and SOS Venezuela will be on a mission to come away with a win in front of their hometown crowd. As it happens, both boats are 32-foot outboard-powered Doug Wright catamarans. In the flat-water Port Charlotte event, The Hullk/Redline Oil team prevailed. But in the nasty waters off Cocoa Beach, SOS Venezuela claimed victory. The potential wild card in this class is the Dubai-based Fazza team, the reigning X-Cat Series world champion that reportedly will make Sarasota its stateside debut.
Superboat: With either five or six catamarans with twin 750-hp engines likely to show up in this class, the hands-down favorite to take the victory in Sarasota has to be Stihl, which took first place in the first two races of the season. The new-for-2014 cockpit duo of owner/driver J.R. Noble and Mark Kowalski has jelled—in a hurry—in the cat, and while the Superboat class has several teams capable of taking the checkered flag, Stihl goes in as the odds-on favorite to do it.
Superboat Vee: Snowy Mountain River took first place in SBI’s season opner—and got handed parity restrictions for the rest of the season moving forward. No one other than the boat’s owner/driver Michael Janssen knows if Snowy will rejoin the single-engine canopied Superboat Vee-class field this year, but the boat was out for the next race and Sun Print, which had always been the closest competition for Janssen’s undefeated V-bottom, claimed victory in the second race of the season. Assuming Snowy stays on the sidelines for Sarasota, Sun Print is well positioned to win its second race in a row this year.
In A Class Of Its Own: For the first races of its 2014 season, the Spirit of Qatar team’s Al Adaa’am 96 turbine-powered catamaran likely won’t have any direct competition in the Turbine class. But that doesn’t matter much to the boat’s driver and the Qatar team’s leader, Sheikh Hassan bin Jabor Al-Thani. Finishing ahead of archrival Miss GEICO would suit him just fine. “As everyone knows, my primary target is Miss GEICO 113 and [driver] Marc Granet in particular,” he said.