HPROP: Piston power is back on the Ohio

Piston powered unlimited hydroplane to challenge turbines; Mitch Evans and U-3 set for battles on the water. (Evansville, Ind.) - With the Budweiser Unlimited Hydroplane Series presented by Boat Shopper® magazine set to begin next weekend ...

Piston powered unlimited hydroplane to challenge turbines; Mitch Evans and U-3 set for battles on the water.

(Evansville, Ind.) - With the Budweiser Unlimited Hydroplane Series presented by Boat Shopper® magazine set to begin next weekend in Evansville, Ind., the story of the season could be the formidable challenge of the only piston-powered Unlimited Hydroplane on the series. For decades the series was known for the thunder on the water as these powerful boats screamed along at speeds approaching 200 miles per hour. But as technology developed, the thunder dissipated to the sound of turbines, in fact Chinook helicopter turbines powering these remarkable boats.

But one team refused to change and kept racing their Allison piston-powered Unlimited Hydroplane. To them, the roar of the Allison engine was something that could not be eliminated even if it meant realistically not having the opportunity to compete with these turbine engines. For every fan that grew up watching the piston-powered boats, the change to turbines was a difficult idea to grasp. Therefore, for the past 17 years, the U-3 owned by the father and son duo of Ed Cooper, Sr. and Jr. has become a fan favorite at every race venue.

To the Cooper family, the history of the Allison engine with the sport of Unlimited Hydroplane racing would never be forgotten. The first victory for an Allison powered hydroplane was in 1946 when the Miss Great Lakes driven by Danny Foster was victorious at the President's Cup held on the Potomac River in Washington, D.C. Throughout the years, the Allison, Rolls-Merlin, Rolls-Griffon and Merlin powered engines dominated the series. When the turbine engine was developed in the early 1980's most teams made the switch. In fact, since 1984 there has only been one victory that was not from a turbine-powered hydroplane. At the Tri-Cities Columbia Cup in 1989, Mitch Evans drove the U-3 Cooper's Express to victory.

During each off-season, Unlimited Hydroplane teams set forth their goals and plans for the upcoming season. For the past decade, most of these teams have made their priority to gain speed and consistency in order to catch the "Big Red Boat" and hopefully bring home a victory. But for this season, that "Big Red Boat" (or the Miss Budweiser to the average fan) might not be the boat everyone is trying to catch. In fact, the "Big Red Boat" these teams might be chasing is the one owned by the Cooper family. Last year after a long-awaited debut, the Cooper's unveiled their brand new Allison Piston-Powered Unlimited Hydroplane at Tri-Cities.

There was instant excitement all throughout the Unlimited Hydroplane community from the moment the piston powered Unlimited Hydroplane touched the water. Many fans had heard about the new boat and waited anxiously for its first opportunity to compete. Unfortunately for the fans at Tri-Cities, that wait had to last one more week after the new U-3 experienced mechanical problems and the team felt it was better to wait till the next week at Seattle's General Motors Cup.

At Seattle, the new U-3 did not disappoint and immediately raised the piston-powered Unlimited Hydroplane lap speed record. In fact, it was the third time that its' driver Mitch Evans had raised the piston-powered record.

When the season finale began at San Diego a month later, the buzz around the pits was that the piston boat could go even faster and was now considered a possible favorite. After a qualifying time of 160.370 miles per hour, which again broke the piston-powered record, the U-3 was the fastest qualifier bettering times of the U-1 Miss Budweiser and the U-16 Miss Elam Plus. After consistently having inadequate horsepower to compete with the turbine-powered hydroplanes, the piston-powered hydroplane was now the fastest of the fleet and a victory was within reach.

Evans did not disappoint the fans at San Diego as he captured a heat victory and placed himself in the thick of the battle for the final. Evans gave it all he could in the final but ended up finishing in third. In doing so, he placed himself as a viable contender for the 2003 season and someone that all teams will have to watch, including the defending champion Miss Budweiser.

After years of competing as David vs. Goliath, the table has turned and the entire Unlimited Hydroplane community could not be more thrilled. The thunder is back and better than ever!

The Budweiser Unlimited Hydroplane Series Presented by Boat Shopper® magazine begins June 27-29 with the Budweiser Thunder on the Ohio at Evansville, Ind.


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Series Boat
Drivers Mitch Evans