P1: The rules of racing

Powerboat P1 Rules - Living By The Law Powerboat P1 Racing excitement Love 'em or hate 'em, the rules are the rules. And in the Powerboat P1 World Championship series, the rules - some lauded and some loathed - are designed to promote safety, ...

Powerboat P1 Rules - Living By The Law

Powerboat P1 Racing excitement Love 'em or hate 'em, the rules are the rules. And in the Powerboat P1 World Championship series, the rules - some lauded and some loathed - are designed to promote safety, parity, cost containment and to prevent any one team from gaining an upper hand.

The 2009 season is nearing its conclusion with the final Grand Prix of the Sea taking place in Syracuse, Sicily, September 11-13 and this year more than most, the rules seemed to get a lot of attention from racers, manufacturers and fans alike, in large part because enforcement of the rules had helped determine the podium outcome for several teams at several races.

As is the case with any motorsport, we tend to like the rules we believe favor us and dislike those perceived to work against us, but with any set of rules, consistency of enforcement makes the rules - and the sport - work. The Powerboat P1 World Championship gets high marks from all involved for consistent enforcement of the rules, and a lot goes in to assuring that focus.

For example, the series' power-to-weight ratio rule - limiting Evolution Class boats to 3.5 Kg and SuperSport to 4.5 Kg per horsepower - allows boats to run with vastly different engines and drive systems and keep competition on par. The rule has proven so popular it has been adopted by other powerboat circuits including those in the U.S. However, in Powerboat P1, the rule alone is not enough to ensure compliance or enforcement, so at the start of each season, teams ship their engines to Northampton, England for dyno testing and sealing at the facilities of Cosworth Racing Limited.

For more than 50 years, Cosworth has been designing, engineering and manufacturing engines of all types from small diesel development projects through race engines for Le Mans and Formula One, according to testing manager Richard Flower. In 2008, Cosworth tested only the gasoline engines for P1 but made the necessary changes for the 2009 season to incorporate the higher torque curves and lower speed variants of large diesel engines.

Powerboat P1 took the additional step of bringing in engineering consultant David Wood, no relation to the U.S. racer and powerboat dealer, David Woods of similar name, to independently test and ensure impartiality and integrity of the process. Wood's more than 40 years in motorsports makes him a widely respected figure among European racers of all stripes and his past employment association at Cosworth created a natural combination and little hesitation in consolidating testing operations under one roof. Powerboat P1 Racing & Events Director Andy Hindley says it is a near bulletproof combination. "It's good to know we are in safe hands because it is the backbone of the rule and it does form the basis on which we measure everything to see if the boats are within the rules or not. We have a very good test bed for that," Hindley says.

According to Hindley, the teams have the option to dyno test both engines to determine the actual horsepower or have one engine tested and the HP doubled. Both engines are sealed however using industry-standard wire seals and tamper evident paint. In addition to compliance, this is doubly important as teams using the same engines at the half-way point of the season are awarded a 50 point bonus, and again at season end. This, Hindley says, is done because the series tries to work with teams at ways of lowering the cost of racing and longevity of equipment is one way of doing that. If an engine is replaced or rebuilt, the new piece goes back to Cosworth for testing and sealing.

Hindley further explains that the efforts don't stop there. "We have a UHF radio-based telemetry system that monitors speed, heading, latitude and longitude and transmits it to race control every second." He further explains that the data is sampled five times per second and the system has the capacity to sample much more data; for the 2010 race season plans are underway to capture and transmit such data. In addition to the telemetry system, sensors and data loggers are placed on all engines to log fuel volume, fuel pressure, exhaust gas temperature, boost pressure and rpm, all necessary, Hindley says, "to see what the engines are doing and how much horsepower is being produced during a race."

As part of that ongoing effort to develop technical improvements to help P1 level the playing field of both classes, Wood designed a new device and Powerboat P1 is currently testing a real-time torque measurement device, both on the engine test bed and in sea trials. If the tests prove successful, the device will be introduced by Powerboat P1 for the 2010 Championship season. P1 see this device as a major step in ensuring that the DPO (Declared Power Output) of any engine is not exceeded during the course of competition. Wood sees the results of the prototype so far as "very encouraging, both from its durability and the accuracy of the data obtained" so utilizing the new device in 2010 looks promising.

The widely praised power-to-weight ratio is a more controversial counterpart in the SuperSport class which has a speed limit rule. Teams are limited to 85 mph but are allowed to "over speed" an unlimited number of times, as long as the higher speed lasts under ten seconds in duration. It is a sometimes a confusing rule that has cost teams' position and points throughout the season. Hindley says the rule is in place for one reason and one reason only--safety. "We are using UIM (the international powerboat sanctioning body) data that shows a racer is much more likely to survive being thrown from a boat at 85 to 90 mph. From 95 to 100 there is far less survivability," he quotes.

The leaders of the two largest U.S-based engine suppliers, Fred Kiekhaefer of Mercury Racing and Paul Ray of Ilmor Engineering, acknowledge the safety aspect, but argue - with surprisingly similar language - "that's not racing." According to Ray, "you advantage the boats that can turn faster at the buoys with little chance for the others to make up on the straights." While Kiekhaefer says the simple solution is to "just add more weight." But Hindley says both positions were well thought-out in advance of the rule implementation. "An extra 5 or 10 mph on the straight won't make the racing more exciting," he says, "It's the bends that do that! It adds an interesting psychological choice: stay at 84 or 85 mph and take the turns faster or exceed the limit for a few seconds and then throttle back at just the right moment, and also, not throttle back to far-it's a balancing act some teams like to play with and some don't--interesting choice though."

And Hindley doesn't agree with adding even more weight to the SuperSport class. "All that will do is make the boats less maneuverable, increase the stress in the boat every time it hits a wave and force teams to have bigger engines. The acceleration out of the turns and the driving skill is where it's at in SuperSport, so I think the weight limits are fine." Both Kiekhaefer and Ray suggest another solution is to go to "spec class" racing, with each offering their own product as the perfect engine platform for such a change. Hindley recognizes the advantages of an "IROC" racing class but contends part of Powerboat P1's success is having an "open field" of participating manufacturers.

Powerboat P1 solicits potential rules changes from race teams and manufacturers each year, providing an opportunity to submit suggestions in August to allow for discussion and presentation to the UIM General Assembly which meets in October.

As for enforcement of the rules, Powerboat P1 is widely regarded as fair. Both Kiekhaefer and Ray, along with many racers admit as much. Hindley says he is proud of the reputation they have earned, "The safety rules speak for themselves. The rest is all about professionalism, having control and giving the teams a sense that things are as level as we can get them. Nothing is worse than going to a race and knowing people are getting away with cheating. The days of 'doing the right thing' are long past at the top end of global sport# # # competitions. For a World Championship; the stakes are too high to leave it to each team to naturally abide by the rules-with all the will in the world, someone will push the rules every time. Don't get me wrong," he quickly adds, "We welcome the push, just not the stepping across the line."

-credit: www.powerboatp1.com

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Series Boat
Drivers David Wood