Now retired, F1 boat racer Bob Trask headed an all-Australian assault on the world F1 circuit and, to this day, stands proud of what he achieved. Like many sportsmen, Bob has passed the baton on to his son, Grant, who is also a skilled and accomplished F1 boat racer.
Boat racing against the best 20 pilots in the world involves risk, mental strength and talent. So when Grant declared that he wanted to follow his father and race the world F1 series, Bob laid down a challenge – if Grant were to lose weight, Bob would sponsor him to contest two rounds on the world F1H2O UIM World Championship. It was a test Grant readily accepted.
Grant hit his target and dropped a whopping 70kg – and went on to contest the final two rounds of the 2016 F1H2O UIM World Championship, just as Bob had agreed. At Abu Dhabi and Sharjah, Grant performed remarkably well … so well, in fact, that the F1 world sat up and took note of the rookie from Down Under.
The Trask boat racing story began in 1987, when Bob Trask raced his self-designed and self-built timber F1 tunnel hull in the Australian F1 series. While not a front-runner from the start, Bob was bitten by the racing bug and set about assembling a professional F1 race team, intent on becoming the best.
While the fastest hulls of the day were Seebold, Hodges and Burgess designs, Bob figured that you can’t beat them if you join them. In 2001, he moved away from timber hulls and produced his first all-composite GTR race hull.
Buoyed by the success of his new race boat in Australia, Bob headed to Singapore in 2003 to race against the best in the world. The Singapore experience taught him a lot. He returned to Brisbane and slightly amended his hull design to better handle rough water conditions. He’d had a taste of racing the world F1 circuit and wanted more.
Meanwhile, Bob’s younger brother, David, had been crewing on the Bob Trask Racing team since 1987 and wanted to join the F1 ranks as a driver. He began racing with a composite GTR hull in 2002.
While Bob and David Trask successfully raced a two-boat team on the Australian F1 circuit, their sights were firmly set on the world stage. Being land developers and builders, the Trask Development Corporation backed the race team.
At its height, Bob Trask had a race team of 12 people which operated with an annual budget of $2.5m, with a cool $1m devoted to R&D. Trask Brothers Racing (TBR) was as serious as any team on the international tour, building their own composite hulls and with an engine development program, in-house machine shop and electrical development department, and a rigorous on-water test regime.
During the R&D phase, Bob and the team would head to the local lake and set up a race course complete with turn buoys and rescue crew, replicating the circuit for the new F1 race. Test sessions were measured and recorded in infinite detail, searching for minute gains. Testing was conducted mid-week, every week, away from prying eyes.
Racing the world circuit from 2002 to 2008 was a vastly different proposition to the series of today. In those days, the F1 formula limited the engine capacity to 2lt, naturally aspirated. The capacity was lifted to 2.5lt for the 2000 series. The rule book was extremely thin, meaning crews could develop their own engine management systems and fuel curves. Engine rpm readings were insanely high and failures way too frequent across all teams. The faster a driver could spin a prop, the faster he went, but ever-increasing engine revs eventually turned a precision two-stroke Mercury race engine into a pile of scrap aluminium.
In this era, Bob would record 142mph (228km/h) on the private race circuit, while on the racecourse he could touch 139mph (224km/h). His small 17ft hulls, reinforced cockpit, 400hp on the transom and a lot of courage behind the wheel made for thrilling racing.
In the course of their careers, Bob and David Trask had fun and, by their own measure, were successful. The record sheets show that David performed slightly better, with a third placing in China and pole position in France in 2007. Bob had a fifth in both China and Sharjah.
Racing F1 brings with it risks and accidents, and both Trask brothers feature on the highlights reel for their big smashes. Bob featured in a double-boat, side-by-side blow over with Guido Cappelini in 2004. David had a monumental accident in Qatar while chasing down third position, when he managed to flip, roll and spin in the biggest accident of the series. The field completed 12 laps under the yellow flag while David was towed back to the pits still strapped in the boat’s cockpit, such was the fear for his wellbeing. Fortunately, he survived with not much more than severe bruising, albeit severely shaken. The boat, however, was destroyed.
After five years on the world circuit, the Trask brothers decided to take a break and parked their F1 race team.
In 2005, Grant Trask entered the Australian powerboat racing circuit in the F3 class. In his first race, though, he blew his boat over backward – an ignominious start to his racing career.
From that point on, his skill as a race driver knew no bounds. He stepped up to SST 120 in 2007 and 2008, then up to F1 in 2009. He was Australian F3 champion in 2006, and the F2 champion in 2007 and 2008, before taking a break for a few years and returning in 2012 to race in the OptiMax class.
Watching the hard-charging Trask wheel his way around the race circuit at breakneck speed, few spectators would have realised he was a young man with a disability – as a five-year-old boy, Grant was run over by a truck and, as a result, lost his right leg above the knee. When racing, he removes his prosthetic leg before being strapped into the cockpit.
While Grant makes light of his misfortune, Bob Trask is immensely proud of his son’s achievement in such a physically demanding sport. Despite his disability, Grant enjoys a wonderful career full of highlights and victories in Australia.
Bigger challenges soon beckoned and nudged the bright lights of the world F1 race circuit into view.
Long-standing Grant Trask Racing crew chief Troy Woods drew on his F1 network and brokered a deal which saw Grant Trask get his opportunity, with the UAE-based EMIC Emirates Racing Team offering their number-three boat to Grant for the 2016 Abu Dhabi and Sharjah rounds. The team comprises Marit Stromoy as lead pilot, Mike Szymura as the number-two pilot, and the team’s 2010 model DAC hull, running a 2.5lt Mercury engine, now piloted by Grant.
A rookie on the world stage, in an unfamiliar race boat on a circuit which he had never seen before, Grant was being thrown to the wolves. This was a heck of a challenge for the young Aussie.
Delayed flights out of Australia cost a full day of preparation. Then, when Grant finally hit the water in his first practice session, there were serious fuel-starvation problems. It took a large chunk of the essential two-day practice period to track the problems back to a fuel-tank failure. In an overnight scramble, his Aussie support crew gutted the chewed-out fuel cell and rebuilt it the night before the race.
“The DAC proved to be quite a different hull to my GTR,” said Grant.
“I had to change my driving style to get around the circuit … learning to drive the DAC during the Grand Prix wasn’t the introduction to F1 that I had planned.”
At Abu Dhabi, Grant qualified in 16th position. The strategy devised by team-boss Bob Trask was to race hard but stay out of trouble, and to watch and learn. Grant drove according to team instructions and crossed the finish line in a very creditable 10th position outright. However, due to an infraction under the caution flag, he was relegated to 12th.
“We were aiming for a top-10 position and, essentially, we achieved it. Despite all the setbacks, we felt that we had achieved our objectives going into this Grand Prix,” Grant said.
The next round at Sharjah was a different proposition. With some seat time in the DAC boat and the opportunity to tune the engine and prop, and balance the hull to Grant’s liking, the level of confidence was now higher.
“In the second race, we went out with the objective of making an impression,” Bob said. “Grant knew what he was racing against and he wasn’t intimidated at all. This time, we were racing to be at the front of the pack.”
In only his second F1H2O UIM World Championship GP, Grant qualified 12th and finished an incredible sixth outright. On elapsed race times, he was less than one second per lap behind the race winner, Shaun Torrente of US team Victory Team.
Grant had made an exceptional debut on the world F1 stage, proving to the global F1 audience that this likeable 27-year-old from Down Under can drive – and drive hard. The world had taken notice, and so did the other teams on pit row.
Even before the Trask entourage had packed up their gear, there was talk about Grant and the 2017 series. Bob was flattered to hear how much the series wanted to have a Trask on the start dock again.
Back in Brisbane, the emails started to flow and the international phone hook-ups became serious. Grant had offers on the table to join an F1 race team to run the whole 2017 F1H2O UIM World Championship.
Ultimately, the deal which he accepted came from Scott Gillman, team manager of Emirates Racing Team, based in the UAE. Grant will be stepping into the 2017 team, replacing Erik Stark.
“This is a great deal with a good team which has the equipment to win,” Grant said.
“The team races DAC hulls and has excellent engines, technicians and systems. We believe that we can add to its IP and will be committed to making a great team better.”
The plan is to set up an existing Emirates Race Team DAC hull to contest the opening rounds in Portugal (April 21 to 23) and France (June 30 to July 2). Thereafter, Bob and Grant Trask are planning to switch to one of their own GTR hulls.
The GTR hull is no faster in a straight line than any other F1 race boat, but Grant is confident that there are handling benefits associated with it. When you are less than one second off the pace, small gains assume massive significance.
“We are absolutely committed to success,” Bob said.
“Grant and I believe that we have a wonderful opportunity. We have a three-year plan. In 2017, we want to be on the podium, then be in the top six in 2018 and ultimately be world champion in three years’ time. An all-Australian team, coming home number one as the best of the F1 world, is not inconceivable.”