NGK Spark Plugs Formula 1 Powerboat Championship completes 4 rounds with 4 different winners!
The NGK Spark Plugs Formula 1 Powerboat Championship lit up the city of Pittsburgh, PA at the 41st EQT Three Rivers Regatta and festival on August 3-5, 2018, bringing its world class tunnel boat racing excitement to a crowd of thousands packing the shore of the Allegheny River to witness the 4th Round of the 2018 NGK F1 series. A racing destination for Formula 1 powerboats dating all the way back to 1982, fans frequently can be heard reciting the catchy festival motto, “You Gotta Regatta!”
Twenty-three high speed rockets arrived to test their prowess, including F1 points leader, #20 Ashton Rinker, who had competed in the first three events and collected the most points, but without achieving a Final race victory.
Leading the Formula Lights points chase coming into Round 4 was #8 Jeremiah Mayo, who had earned a spot on the podium twice before, including a win in Round 1 at Port Neches, Texas. He was leading #40 Austin Cheatham by more than 80 points, followed by Round 2 winner, #01 Kelly Ireland of California.
Saturday racing for Formula 1 started out with 17 boats divided into three separate groups, racing for best times in the Qualifying sessions. #24 Spencer Love, the winner of Round 2 at Gulfport, FL, skipped his time in Qualifying as the team had been frantically working on an electronics issue.
#13 Aaron Wachholz of Minnesota, returning to the circuit after a major crash in Nashville that forced them to spend long hours making repairs to the boat prior to Pittsburgh, felt disappointment again as he went dead in the water during his session – a result of losing his lower unit and his best prop.
Sitting on the pole for Heat 1 after the Qualifying sessions were completed was #20 Ashton Rinker of Riverview, FL, who came to the Allegheny with his boat running flawlessly. Following Rinker was #2 Tracy Hawkins of Willis, TX – who was sitting second in the championship points just a scant 7.5 points behind Rinker – followed by #53 Greg Foster of California. Rinker dominated the heat, leading every lap from start to finish.
The starting positions of Heat II were in reversed order, with #5 Reuben Stafford of Richmond, TX on pole and his McCollough Racing teammate, #03 Dustin Terry right beside to him. In the third position was rookie #55 John Edde of Seymour, IN who came to Pittsburgh with his eyes on the Rookie of the Year trophy in a points duel with fellow rookie, #99 Travis Yates of Richmond, TX who was starting in 5th position.
The boat to make it first to the turn was #03 Dustin Terry, followed closely by #5 Stafford and #9 Johnny Fleming, who started 7th. On lap 9, #96 Fred Durr, who had made his way up from the back of the pack, came into the corner hot and tapped the back of #9 Fleming, causing the #96 to spin out. Fleming had only light damage and was able to continue.
On the restart, #03 Terry roared back into the lead again with Stafford and Fleming in hot pursuit, but this time it was Terry who crashed on the very first lap, rolling his boat into #9 Fleming. This time, the damage was too heavy for Fleming to continue, taking out his steering. All drivers were ok.
Terry explained, “We had a good lead built-up for a while and then there was an incident, so we had to restart the race. On the restart, I went into the first turn in the lead with Johnny Fleming real close on my outside. Had a little mistake. I hit a little roller in the first turn, in the worst place possible – skipped out – and caught the back side of his boat and it rolled the boat over.”
For restart number two, #05 Stafford sat on pole with #04 Wesley Cheatham and #55 John Edde in the 2nd and 3rd slots. But when the flag dropped, #20 Ashton Rinker, who started sixth, shot out like a cannon and by lap three had a sizable lead on the field and never looked back. #4 Cheatham of Trinity, TX, finished 2nd with #05 Stafford taking 3rd.
Heat II was a tough race for a large portion of the racers, as more than half of the field had to spend that night either repairing hull damage or fixing mechanical maladies.
Racing on Sunday started in the late afternoon, giving time for the Pittsburgh Pirates to complete their game, as their stadium is just blocks from the race site. Heat III, using an inverted start according to points, gave #24 Spencer Love and #03 Terry a chance to recapture some valuable points. Rookie #85 Mike Makus of Oshkosh, WI started in the third position.
By lap three, #85 Makus took the lead away from #03 Terry with #96 Fred Durr coming up from 8th position to move into 2nd place. Makus continued to lead until #53 Greg Foster worked his way up from 9th and passed Makus in the last few laps of the race to take the win. Makus held on to 2nd with Durr finishing in 3rd.
Being able to lead in a heat race was outstanding for Makus, as this is only his 4th F1 race. He explained that racing alongside of the legendary Foster was a thrill. “I had #03 on the inside and I got around him, heading back toward the start/finish and it was just clear water. And after that it was great. I think I ran 8 laps in the lead. It was awesome. And then Foster got around me and I held 2nd. But Foster’s been around for a long time -- raced back with my dad -- so I’ll take that!”
The Final saw all 17 F1 entries report for the line-up. The busted boats were all patched up and ready for their last meeting on the Allegheny. The top five starters were #20 Rinker, #53 Foster and #94 Rusty Wyatt of Toronto, Canada – who had racked up starting position points by finishing in 4th in both Heats I and II – followed by #4 Wesley Cheatham and #2 Tracy Hawkins. #96 Durr and #85 Makus started in positions 6 and 7.
On lap two, #96 Durr hit a tricky spot and rolled his boat over in turn #1, at the same location #03 Terry crashed the day before. Durr landed right side up and barely got wet, quickly signaling to rescue that he was ok.
The restart saw #94 Rusty Wyatt get the jump on #53 Foster to take over second place, while #20 Rinker sped out in front of the field and increased his commanding lead. Within a few laps, #5 Reuben Stafford moved up from 8th place to 6th place and about that same time, #55 Edde’s boat cut wildly to the right and then speared a metal channel marker resulting in a shower of wooden splinters. The impact sheared off the front of the right sponson, but Edde was able to maneuver his crippled craft to the launch ramp before it could sink.
While Rinker was living large way out in front, #53 Foster was all over #94 Wyatt, pressuring the Canadian for second place. Foster, known for his unrestrained driving style, came close to rolling a few times as he did everything possible to catch the #94.
Meanwhile, several top-seeded boats dropped out of the top 10 and out of contention due to a host of issues, including #03 Terry, #02 Hawkins, #9 Fleming and #24 Love.
Ashton Rinker cruised on to an easy victory, followed by Wyatt and Foster.
Wyatt described the battle with Foster. “Greg Foster is a veteran and I somehow got around him on the start, which was amazing. We were able to hold him off throughout the race. There were definitely some errors in there. We got him very close to us in the main event and we were able to hold him off and just ride it out for a second-place finish.”
For Foster, third place was good, but not where he had hoped to finish. “For some reason – I don’t know if we have electronics or something – but it just wasn’t a happy motor. After the restart we took off, it was a dog. That’s when Rusty Wyatt got by me. I gave him everything I could, and I had nothing. But he did a great job. Ashton did a great job hanging out in front. So, it just wasn’t our day. But at least points-wise, I hope it puts us up a little higher than we’ve been. We’ll get to Springfield and see if we can do better there.”
This was Rinker’s first “Final” win this season, and his weekend was nearly flawless, winning qualifying and 2 out of 3 heats. Rinker said, “It all started off with winning qualifying. Getting out in front of the guys. Starting on the pole in the first heat was great – was able to get us out front. In the reverse order there were a few restarts in the second heat, but we had a lot of punch off the start and were able to work through traffic and win that heat as well. And then going into the third heat, we knew we were starting from the back. We knew we had to be at least 8th and forward, and we were able to move all the way up and get 4th. But overall, it was a great weekend. We led every single lap in the final and pulled away to a 15 boat length victory.” Rinker concluded, “The team kept everything together: James Chambers, Frank Force, Jamie Sullivan, Mark Sumpter. You can’t get any better.”
The NGK Spark Plugs Formula 1 Final
1. ASHTON RINKER #20
2. RUSTY WYATT #94
3. GREG FOSTER #53
4. WESLEY CHEATHAM #4
5. REUBEN STAFFORD #5
6. MIKE MAKUS #85
7. DAVID MCMURRAY #57
8. JIMMIE MERLEAU #69
9. JOHNNY FLEMING #9
10. AARON WACHHOLZ #13
11. TRAVIS YATES #99
12. TRACY HAWKINS #2
13. TIM KRAFT #15
14. DUSTIN TERRY #03
15. SPENCER LOVE #24
16. JOHN EDDE #55
17. FRED DURR #96
Formula Lights driver #8 Jeremiah Mayo came to Pittsburgh with a dominating series lead of more than 80 points ahead of second place, #40 Austin Cheatham. But after Pittsburgh, that lead shrunk a little, as Mayo suffered mechanical trouble during heat action as well as in the final.
#8 Mayo easily won Heat 1, but Heat 2 – the reversed heat -- was packed with action. As the flag dropped, fourteen year old rookie driver #13 Grant Schubert roared past the pole sitter #01 Kelly Ireland after she suffered a late start, leaving teenaged teammates #8 Mayo and #13 Grant Schubert to battle each other for first on the Allegheny River. Schubert was able to hold off Mayo for his first ever win and admitted that he was a bit nervous having his teammate knocking on his back door. “I was really nervous because I’ve never won a race before. I was just trying my hardest not to do anything wrong, because I had my teammate, Jeremiah Mayo, doing everything he could to try and pass me, and I was just trying to keep him behind me.”
In the Formula Lights Final on Sunday, Mayo and Schubert were 1-2 on the pole, with #40 Austin Cheatham and #66 Steve Merleau starting 3rd and 4th. Shortly after the starting flag dropped, Cheatham was able to get past Schubert and set his sights on Mayo.
On lap 3, Mayo dropped out of the race, a victim of a faulty coil, giving some relief to Cheatham. Meanwhile, #66 Merleau was gaining on #13 Schubert. But then Cheatham began having trim problems, which allowed Merleau and Schubert to close in.
But mechanical woes also came to haunt Schubert too – a pesky coil problem, just like his teammate -- and he was out of the race by lap 13. As the race drew closer to the end, Merleau began to breathe down Cheatham’s neck. Cheatham, still struggling with a faulty trim, was on the radio in desperation asking his crew how many minutes were left.
But as the checkered flag dropped, Cheatham made it through first, with Merleau finishing close behind in second place.
Cheatham described his victory. “Got to the first corner in second, and, unfortunately, Jeremiah broke. But we were right there with him. Got out front and we were leading and had a good comfortable lead and then the trim started messing up and everybody started catching me. So, it was pretty nerve wracking. Kept talking to my radio man asking him to find out how much time we had left. He told me we had one lap to go and I saw the checkered, so it was a really good feeling. It was rough. It was fun. I was glad to win.”
The NGK Spark Plugs Formula Lights Final
1. Austin Cheatham #40
2. Steve Merleau #66
3. Kelly Ireland #01
4. Grand Schubert #13
5. Jeremiah Mayo #8
6. Debby Mobley #45
Teams quickly packed up and headed to Springfield, OH for “Wake the Lake” F1 Grand Prix held just one week after Pittsburgh, on August 10-12, 2018. To see the current point standings, racer bios, and full race results, visit the website www.ngkf1.com.
2018 The NGK Spark Plugs Formula One Powerboat Championship Racing Schedule:
May 4-6 Port Neches, TX - F1, F-Light, Tri Hull, J-Hydro
June 1-3 Gulfport, FL - F1, F-Light, Tri Hull
June 15-16 Nashville, TN - F1, F-Light, Tri Hull, J-Hydro
Aug. 3-5 Pittsburgh, PA - F1, F-Light
Aug. 10-12 Springfield, OH - F1, F-Light
Sept. 14-16 Orange, TX - F1, F-Light, Tri Hull, J-Hydro
Greenlight TV will film the NGK Spark Plugs F1 racing action all season long, producing six 30-minute shows airing on CBS Sports Network. The “EQT Three Rivers Regatta” from Pittsburgh, PA will air on Wednesday, Aug 22, 2018 at 7:30 PM ET and 10:30 PM ET. The “Wake the Lake” Springfield F1 Grand Prix will air on Wednesday, August 29th at 8:30 PM ET and repeats at 11:30 PM ET. Follow the series on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/NGKF1PowerboatChampionship and watch the Live Feed of the F1 Final from Springfield on Sunday August 12th, at approximately 3:00 pm EST or visit NGKF1.com for further information about the NGK F1 Series.
The NGK Spark Plugs Formula 1 Powerboat Championship is ecstatic to have the strong commitment of title sponsor, NGK Spark Plugs - The Ignition Specialist. Since 1936, NGK Spark Plugs has been the world leader in technology, innovation, and world-class quality in the design of spark plugs and oxygen sensors. Today, NGK manufactures NGK Spark Plugs and NTK Oxygen Sensors for virtually every automotive manufacturer in the world.
NGK has built a reputation for quality and reliability, and a commitment to excellence continues to be the driving force behind the company’s advanced research and development programs. In North America, NGK is headquartered in Wixom, MI and maintains manufacturing, inventory, and distribution facilities in Irvine, CA, Sissonville, WV, and Chicago, IL.