SNHL Gold Cup Race Recap
The most anticipated race of the season had a staggering 19 boats for the initial race with Nicholas Miller in the U-9 Les Schwab Tires coming out as top qualifier with a blazing speed of 164.222. This would be the 4th pole that Nicholas Miller would capture on the season, further proving that his abilities to push the Les Schwab Tires to the limit is second to none. The Detroit River introduced a monumental challenge to all the attending drivers with its unpredictable water conditions, superspeedway length, and the always infamous roostertail turn. Many drivers could not tame the dangerous Detroit River as DNF's were common throughout the day.
In the first flight of heats, we saw Eddie Kanfoush get the heat 1A victory, Kelsey Best powered his Spirit of Qatar to a heat 1B win, Matt Johnson started his Gold Cup weekend on the right note with a 1C win over the Les Schwab Tires, and Cei Bowen in the Tide capture the win in what would be a 2 boat heat. The 2nd flight saw an impressive win by Saxon Hopp in 2A, piloting the Miss Pontiac to a 1st place after penalties accrued to the rest of the field in his debut. Chris Porten would survive a destructive 2B for a big heat win, Kanfoush would continue to rack up championship points with a 1st place in 2C, and Nicholas Miller would be the lone survivor in an anti-climatic heat 2D.
Scott Przybylski chalked up a defiant heat 3A victory in the U-22 Matrix Systems, Kanfoush racked up another heat win in 3B, Miller bested Bowen by getting a solid heat 3C win, and Tim Johnson would bring the Pico American Dream their first heat finish and victory at Detroit. The last flight of heats would be essential for any driver that had hopes to automatically make it into the Gold Cup final as the top 5 in weekend points would advance. Bowen would get an important 4A win over his Wurster teammate, Jeff Dewalt driving the U-12 Graham Trucking for Rob Graham would notch a heat 4B win, and Nicholas Miller would tally up his 3rd preliminary heat win in 4C.
5 boats would be eligible for the consolation as the field would consist of Saxon Hopp in the Lealand Unlimited U-15 Miss Pontiac, Matt Johnson in the GFTL U-21 Albert Lee Appliances, Kallen Washburn making his debut in the U-25 Superior Racing, Peyton Hopp in the Schumacher Racing's U-88 Degree Men, and Kelsey Best in the Ellstrom Racing U-96 Spirit of Qatar. The start saw the Spirit of Qatar and Miss Pontiac both make an excellent start, but the detrimental Detroit River would claim Hopp as its first victim after Hopp crashed out after the start/finish line. Best would go on to dominate from wire to wire with Peyton Hopp in hot pursuit the whole race. Coming to the roostertail turn, the Degree Men would overfly it and nearly blow over as Best would lock in to the Gold Cup final as the trailer. Peyton Hopp would go on to finish 2nd and Washburn rounded out the field in 3rd as Johnson and Hopp would DNF in the consolation.
Both of the Johnson brothers had their fare share of struggles at the Gold Cup with Matt being unable to finish in the conny, and Tim unable to make the consolation based on his weekend points. For Tim Johnson in the Pico American Dream, practice is crucial at Detroit if you hope to win the immortal Gold Cup and a lack thereof put a big roadblock in his chances. "A couple weeks ago the PICO team moved their shop to the tri cities and unfortunately that made all of the logistics of practicing and getting comfortable with the boat on that rough water extremely difficult. When you haven't practiced surviving the Detroit, there is no forgiveness."
For Matt Johnson in the Albert Lee Appliance, the monstrous Detroit river impacted his weekend performance at a crucial point in the season. "I think it was a bit of both, but mostly the river itself. It's a beast that is not easy to tame and I know I wasn't the only one that struggled with it. The two heats that I actually finished I picked up a first and a second so I know I can be fast there but I don't think I was really ready for how rough it was. Overall it was kind of a disappointing weekend for the U-21 team but all we can do now is move on and get ready for San Diego."
As the sun began to set in Detroit, Michigan, 6 beautiful hydroplanes were lined up on the docks with 6 of the most talented hydroplane drivers in the world behind the wheel. The 2018 Gold Cup lineup would have Eddie Kanfoush in the U-8 Llumar Window Films, Cei Bowen in the U-8 Tide, Nicholas Miller in the U-9 Les Schwab Tire, Chris Porten in the U-25 Pay 'n' Pak, Kelsey Best (trailer) in the U-96 Spirit of Qatar, and Mickey Washburn in the U-1918 Oberto. The 5 minute gun would sound as all 6 competitors would seek out their timing marks and fight for lanes to put themselves in the best position to win the prestigious Gold Cup. As the clock dipped below 1 minute, lanes would be established with the Les Schwab in lane 1, the Tide in 2, Llumar in 3, Pay 'n' Pak trailing back in 4, Oberto with momentum in 5 and Best starting 5 seconds back. Coming to the start, Oberto seemed to have nailed it initially but would jump the gun by mere milliseconds which would put him a lap down. Bowen and Miller would nail the start with Kanfoush close behind in lane 3. The Tide would have the lead entering turn 1 with the Les Schwab slowly chipping away at a half roostertail lead as Bowen would lead lap 1. Little did everyone know that this would be the beginnings of the best race of the season.
The Tide showcased significant top end speed on the outside but Miller in the Les Schwab would keep in pace and have the shorter course on the inside. Towards the end of lap 2, Best would stuff the Spirit of Qatar in the roostertail turn while Porten would lose control of the boat and blowover as that would knock both racers out of the Gold Cup. The Tide and Les Schwab continued to put on one hell of a battle as Miller would grab the lead out of the Belle Isle turn. Both boats were mere feet apart down the backstretch as they charged hard into the roostertail turn with both boats just about making contact at the end of lap 3. Bowen would recapture the lead out of the turn but only hold it on the straightaway as Miller would retake the lead out of Belle Isle. Deck to deck, edge of your seat racing as both boats were vigorously flying their boats into the roostertail turn. Bowen barely had the lead entering the final lap of the Gold Cup, as these 2 drivers pushed their talent and skills to the limit. Side by side down the back stretch they went with Bowen having a slight advantage on the outside entering the final turn of the Gold Cup. Out of the turn, Miller would swing out into the roostertail and go vertical momentarily, but manage to save it as Cei Bowen in the Tide would go on to win the first ever SNHL Gold Cup.
We caught up with Cei Bowen shortly after the race and discussed how surreal it was for him to win the Gold Cup after a roller-coaster of a season. "It wasn't the weekend I planned for but it was my best weekend. I had a penalty earlier in the day that kind of made me upset but I had to over come from that and put up a second and two first in the heats. From there it was all smooth sailing. Went into the final super nervous but was comfortable. I changed up my mill completely and for the first at Detroit tried to troll. I hadn't practiced for trolling at all so I just followed DJ and knew what I was capable of from lane 2. I stuck to my main timing marks and went off where I was for them. Once the race started I had to make sure to fly it as much as possible but not over fly it and have to slow down. I ran the best race that I could've. One of the down falls was that I had a couple buoys missing because of net code and couldn't hold him as tight as I would've liked to. But by far the most fun and memorable race I've had all season. Happy to win the first SNHL Gold Cup."
You had to give props to Nicholas Miller in the Les Schwab who put it all on the line at the Gold Cup and managed to put on a show for the Detroit fans with a close 2nd place finish. After coming home just shy of a Gold Cup victory, Miller had no sense of disappointment after a thrilling hydroplane race. "That race was one of the most fun races I've ever experienced. It was a great battle and shows exactly what boat racing is all about. It was exactly the type of on-the-water battle that every hydro fan loves to see. Obviously I would've loved to win the Gold Cup, but I'm ultimately hear to have fun, and I had an absolute blast. I hope we can have more races in the future that are even more exciting. Can't wait for San Diego, where I can hopefully end the season on a high-note." Miller would also go on to win the weekend on points with 1900, the first driver ever to beat Kanfoush on overall weekend points.
While Eddie Kanfoush would be the odd-man out in the intense final heat finishing in 3rd, he has all but secured the national high points championship after another successful points weekend. While the Gold Cup trophy was out of reach for Kanfoush, he was still proud of the solid weekend he gathered at Detroit. "I was pretty pleased with the Gold Cup. It was a big points weekend and I came away with 3 heat wins and a good amount of points, and I feel very confident with my points situation. I was disappointed in the start I had in the final because the boat felt very strong, but I will definitely take a third and watching my teammate win the Gold Cup in an amazing final. Overall, we [The Llumar Team] can't be too disappointed with how the weekend went."
Mickey Washburn in the Oberto has had an up and down to this point, but managed to make his first final appearance after a consistent showing in the prelims. Even with canard wing issues as well as jumping the gun in the final, Washburn survived the adversity of the Detroit River with a 4th place finish. "It was a good weekend. And even though we jumped the gun in the final and after the first lap the canard issue started up again, we still finished fourth in the Gold Cup. It’s not a final heat win but it was our best weekend of the season and we’re happy with that."
The Pay 'n' Pak and Chris Porten found himself in his first final appearance of the season at the Gold Cup after displaying a consistent strategy on a rough Detroit course. The Pak would suffer from the mighty Detroit River with a blowover in the final, as he had hoped to meet his expectations of finishing all the heats he started in. "I wouldn't exactly say I exceeded my expectations since I had hoped to finish all my races. I was disqualified from heat 4B due to a brain fart because I wasn’t sure if I had clearance to enter the course after cutting. I wasn’t using a spotter and didn’t realize where I was on the course. I went through a DMZ, which resulted in a DQ. Then the final resulted in a wreck, not of my doing I don’t think. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy with the other prelim races, including a win in heat 2B and how I did as a whole. Don’t forget I was racing with a major Cold that I got for Christmas, which I still haven’t recovered from yet. I just wish I had gotten points in all the races. Maybe the Bill Muncey Cup in San Diego will be different if I can get rid of this Cold by then."
The Spirit of Qatar would also be a victim of the rough Gold Cup final as he violently stuffed the boat entering the tight roostertail turn. It was an unfortunate ending for the Spirit of Qatar team after fighting their way into the final heat via consolation heat. For many drivers like Best, the Detroit River is by far one of the toughest courses to tame. "It's incredibly difficult, especially when your driver stayed out partying too late the night before! Our team was disappointed once again by our performance in Detroit, especially that of our driver. If we don't see an improvement in San Diego we may be looking for other options next season."
The Gold Cup by far exceeded the expectations of many with Cei Bowen and Nicholas Miller throwing down one unforgettable final heat race for 5 laps straight. Bowen would come out on top with all the glory as the 1st ever SNHL Gold Cup Champion. We are sure that drivers and fans of hydroplane racing alike will remember the 2018 SNHL Gold Cup for years to come. With the excitement level through the roof after a monumental Gold Cup, we look to continue that feeling at San Diego Bayfair. The final stop of the first season of the Saturday Night Hydroplane League is upon us, we will see you all at San Diego, California!
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