Mud missiles

Andy Belcher | VOLUME 30, ISSUE 3
Rik Burke’s co-driver Alf Kil directs him through the middle section.
Originating in New Zealand in the early 1980s, jetsprint racing sees pocket rockets hurtling around a tightly winding track at incredible speeds.

The world’s first jetsprint championship held in a stadium, Round 2 of the New Zealand Jetsprint Championship, took place in January 2014 in New Zealand, at the ASB Baypark stadium in Tauranga. I missed the inaugural event, but was fortunate to attend the 2015 running.

At the media day, I talked with several of the sport’s top competitors, including New Zealand’s Peter Caughey – nine times New Zealand jetsprint champion and seven times world champion – and Karen Marshall, Caughey’s co-driver of 10 years.

Caughey, who also designs jetsprint boats, was excited about the new stadium event. Despite the tight confines of the track, he expected the top boats to be negotiating 32 corners in less than one minute. This seemed impossible to me and I couldn’t wait to see the action.

Caughey’s enthusiasm wavered slightly as he described breaking his crankshaft at a Wanganui event three weeks prior. “This resulted in no engine power and consequently no steering,” Caughey reflected. “It’s known as a flameout and luckily it happened on the straight, saving us from a serious impact.”

Without power, jetsprint boats have no directional control, so can spear off the track when an engine fails.

The crankshaft is handmade and a replacement was still 18 weeks away, so the boat the team planned to race in Round 2 had been borrowed from another competitor.

“As I got older, competing was placing huge physical demands on me,” said Caughey. “We needed to get smarter and that’s why I started designing new boats.”

People wanting to add some excitement to their boating can order complete jetsprint boats from Caughey at Sprint Tech. They come complete with the trim set and are water tested and ready-to-go for about NZ$140,000.

With his many years of experience, Caughey has greatly improved the safety features. Specially designed, figure-hugging seats with five-point harnesses help protect the crew from the huge g-forces of between 4g and 8g in the corners.

UNSUSPECTING

Karen Marshall grew up in a motorsport family. She admitted that when signing up as Caughey’s co-driver 10 years ago, she had no idea what she was getting into.

“I was lucky because Peter is such a smooth driver,” explained Marshall. “I could not have asked for anything more. The team is very professional and it all works like clockwork.”

In the Superboat class, the boats boast over 1000hp and accelerate very rapidly. Their jetsprint units are capable of displacing the water in a family-sized swimming pool in under two minutes. With this in mind, I asked Karen how it felt sitting in the ‘passenger’ seat and did she get nervous? Her response was interesting: “On my first run of the day I always feel physically sick. Once we have negotiated the first corner, I’m fine.”

ACCOMPLISHED NOVICE

35-year-old Emma Gilmour of Dunedin, NZ, is ranked the best female rally driver in the world. She raced a 700hp Hyundai for rally specialists Rhys Millen Racing in the 2014 Global Rallycross Championship series in America. Gilmour was the first female to ever make it into the supercar finals. This year, she will contest the NZ Rally Championship in a Suzuki Swift. So why was she walking through the jetsprint pit sporting flameproof race overalls?

“I’m here to drive a jetsprint boat,” she said. I apologised for not knowing she was also a jetsprint driver. “I’m not,” she confessed. “I have never driven one before.”

On race day I entered the central circuit area and awaited the action. One competitor was doing some engine checks, with his boat in the water but still tied to the trailer. Each time he blipped the throttle it pushed the boat, the trailer, and the 4WD vehicle several metres up the ramp!

Emma Gilmour soon completed a few demo laps for the crowd and, I have to say, she drove extremely well for her first time ever.

I found a good vantage point as the racing began. On this tiny course, the boats were reaching speeds of up to 140km/h. They have no brakes, of course, and the only way to negotiate a corner fast is with plenty of throttle as they rely on the directional jets to manoeuvre. The spray from the jet units create huge, wildly shaped curtains of water.

With my camera gear almost receiving a drenching, I took the advice of a track marshal, who told me that if a boat comes out of the water at speed, there’s no point in trying to outrun it. It’s better to run sideways out of its trajectory. I quickly found a happy place well behind the protective hay bales and started shooting.

As the competition progressed towards the Superboats, the lap times got faster and faster, the best being 43 seconds. Peter Caughey had engine problems with his borrowed boat and shared good friend Leighton Minnell’s boat, drove an immaculate race and secured second place overall behind Australian Phonsy Mullan, who scored that staggeringly fast time of 43 seconds.

Jetsprint is one of the most photogenic forms of motorsport I have ever seen. It’s vibrant, it’s fast, and it’s very exciting to watch.

They race on both sides of the Tasman, so if you like motorsport, you might want to get to a meeting.

For more, go to jetsprint.co.nz.


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