The Honda Cowes Classic powerboat festival, held annually over the August bank holiday weekend, was a tremendous success, hosting eight major races for all the popular powerboat racing series, including the Cowes-Torquay-Cowes race, the British International Harmsworth Trophy and the Honda Formula Four Stroke series finals.
Cowes, Isle of Wight, this weekend played host to a celebration of international powerboat racing, as competitors from all the major series descended on the spiritual home of powerboat racing for four days of fast and furious on-water action. Organised by the British Powerboat Racing Club and hosted for the second consecutive year by title sponsors Honda, the meeting attracted large crowds, big personalities from the powerboat world and, unsurprisingly, some extremely fast boats. Over the four days from Thursday 22 to Sunday 25 August, the season came to a head for many of the most popular racing series, including the UIM Endurance World and European Championship, the ProVee European Cup and the Honda Formula Four Stroke (HFFS) series, and the BIBOA World Cup. The meeting was also a significant stage in both the RYA National Championships (Class III 4-litre, 2-litre and 1.3 litre).
On Thursday, the world record for the fastest lap around the Isle of Wight fell to Hannes Bohinc’s monstrous WETTPUNKT.com, which averaged 82.7mph (71.8knots) over the course. Friday’s first heat of the ProVee European Cup saw experienced campaigner Tony Dowley triumph in Thunderbird, a pattern he and his team were set to continue in heat two on Sunday. Saturday was the day of the big race, the Cowes-Torquay-Cowes race, open to most of the competing classes, which provided the largest field of entries, 27 boats, to date. This classic race, now in it’s 42nd year, also combined three major race series heats, the U.I.M Endurance World and Euroepan Championships and heats 1 & 2 of the BIBOA World Cup. To the deafening roar of engines, 27 highly charged machines, drivers and throttlemen took off from the Gurnard buoy at 10:00am sharp, heralded by the conspicuous start boat, a Red Funnel Ferry. After a frenetic lap of the ‘Solent triangle’ marks, the fleet shot off to Torquay, a distance of 105 miles, in uncharacteristically balmy conditions. After leading from the start, the mighty WETTPUNKT.com blew an oil pump just off the Portland Gate, allowing KS1 Sunseeker XS Racing, piloted by BMF Power Yachstmen of the Year 2001, Ian Sanderson and Peter Dredge, nip through into second place behind the super-quick Super Classic 40. Five miles out from Torquay, an intense fight for second, third and fourth place was thrashed out between the Sunseeker boys, Mssrs. Williams-Hawkes & Anthony in R21 Bridge Motorcycles and the strong Italian team in the Touring class, T33 Ring Drive, which eventually broke through to pip the others into Torquay.
A one hour refuel and drink stop in Torquay, with some frenetic but good-spirited fuel berthing maneuvers, and the fleet were back in the race for the return leg to Cowes. As S33 sought to consolidate its lead by taking advantage of remarkably flat conditions and making a 1500-horse powered, Seatek-propelled bee line for the Solent, Sunseeker racing were hot on their heels. Overtaking R21 Bridge Motorcycles in Lyme Bay, they powered through to an emphatic finish in second place overall, giving them the European and British Endurance titles in the bargain. Victory, in the Cowes-Torquay -Cowes, and for the World Endurance Championship, went to Tommasso de Simone and his crew in the S33 Super Classic 40 in a very quick combined time of 3hrs 14mins 32secs. R21 won the Formula One class in the BIBOA World Cup, followed not far behind by Hunt and Shelton in R5 Extremeboat.com. Premier Crew, driven by Chairman of the British Powerboat Racing Club, The Earl of Normanton, and David Allenby, came third in the British Endurance Sports Class behind S33 and KS1. Premier Crew, a 38ft Cougar, has received modifications to lighten it and improve speed since it raced here last year, after the Earl had taken a 24-year break from the Cowes-Torquay, and now has the full engineering support from Yamaha. “The enthusiasm that existed for the race drew me back to it – I couldn’t resist” said the Earl. Well-supported Italian team Rizzardi racing the Prototype class P21 Rizzardi, had complications on the first leg which meant a disappointing finish after four hours.
While the Cowes-Torquay competitors were boiling up the waters of Lyme Bay, back in the Solent the Honda Formula Four Stroke (HFFS) series came closer to its grand finale in Round 9 of the series. With 120 points accumulated over a hard summer of racing at five nationwide venues, nothing could stop the strong ‘King of Shaves’ team of Sinclair and Shepherd from winning the 130hp championship series, cruising over the line in fourth place to beat runners-up Team H4 ‘Rocela’ to the title. But on the day, race honours went to H-2 ‘Hoodlum’, driven by Shaun Lapworth and Elly Haines. “We’re thrilled with victory” said Lapworth “This completes a hat-trick for us – we won in Cowes both last year and the year before, so I’m glad we’ve not lost our form”. With second place going to the competitive rookie outfit of Glendinning and Spence in H14 ‘Warmup’ and a worthy third place won by Honda’s very own Ebenezer and Haynes in H7 ‘EFH Racing’, who kept optimistic throughout the season, the 130hp machine rolled on to Sunday’s final round in the Round the Island race. In the 225hp class, Steve and Tanya Baird in Morse Minardi were popular winners ahead of R2 Composites’ Cozens and Haisman, overall class leaders. “We’re at the top of the championship, but only seven points ahead of Honda Racing, so pressure’s on for tomorrow’ said Cozens. The HFFS has been a tremendously successful series since its inception in 1999, and you can expect a full complement of 20 x 130hp boats and at least four more in the 225hp class for 2003.
On Sunday, Dowley and Peeters stuck to the script and took the chequered flag in heat two of the ProVee European Cup, recording an astonishing 91.2mph, the second time the Round Island world record had been smashed this weekend – pending U.I.M ratification. The popular Round the Island basic race saw a fleet of 59 participating boats, with the Class III 6-litre S7 Bladerunner City taking line honours (average speed 85mph) and H2 Hoodlum and Morse Minardi coming first in the final round of the respective HFFS 130hp and 225hp championships. Later that afternoon, Master of Ceremonies Martin Saunders of Honda UK made presentations to the class victors, including the world’s oldest powerboat racing prize, the Harmsworth Trophy, re-awarded at Cowes this year after an absence of 10 years, to Italy, represented by Tommaso de Simone’s S33 team. The Harmsworth, a solid bronze trophy first presented in 1903, is a nations trophy awarded to the country of the winning team, is considered to be the powerboating equivalent of the America’s Cup and will celebrate it’s centenary next year.
In all, the Honda Cowes Classic weekend was a great success, with clear skies & flat sea conditions blessing competitors from the UK, Italy, Norway, Austria, the US and other countries who met on the water, and in the bar, in a four-day powerboat racing extravaganza. John Walker, of the British Powerboat Racing Club, and Officer of the Day at the Honda Cowes Classic, had this to say: “We were extremely lucky with the weather conditions. But regardless, we had 80 powerboats in 17 classes on the water in a total of 14 hours of competition over four days. There were no accidents and no incidents, which is quite remarkable. The only way this happened was the support of our team of 400 devoted volunteers who give up their time to make this a very professionally-run event. In my experience, it has been one of the most successful Cowes Classics ever, which has evoked the atmosphere and camaraderie of the old days. All the drivers and teams conducted themselves in an exemplary way and I again heap praise on the safety committee, who ran more than 80 safety boats this weekend, and the volunteers for making this the resounding success that it was.” What a marvellous spectacle of speed, and fraternity, it was indeed.