Saltwater proved to be more of a handicap than horsepower was an attribute for Chip Hanauer’s boat in the final race of Sunday’s Thunderboat Regatta.
Entering the final race on Mission Bay’s saltwater course, the big favorite was Hanauer, winner of four straight final races and the national champion with 7,300 points.
Just hours before Jim Kropfeld’s boat won the final race in San Diego for the second straight year, Hanauer clinched his third national points championship by winning the first elimination heat of the afternoon.
Before the final race, rival driver Scott Pierce said: “There’s not a boat here that can run with Chip when he runs. He knows that and we know that. He just has more boat speed than we do.”
But Hanauer is one of two drivers to use a boat with a turbine powered engine.
Too much salt is not good for people and too much saltwater is not good for a turbine engine. Salt buildup can cause the compressor to stall.
“In a horse race you don’t want a lot of mud thrown at you,” Hanauer said. “And here, you don’t want to ingest salt water in the engine.”
No turbine engine has ever won a final race on the saltwater courses in San Diego and Miami. That streak remained intact when Hanauer’s boat stalled on the back stretch of the second lap of Sunday’s five-lap race.
“The saltwater finally got to the engine,” Hanauer said. “The engine was stalling at the five minute gun and I knew I was in trouble. I tried to cheat the motor by flowing fresh water through it, but I couldn’t get it to run.”
Kropfeld, the winner of his two earlier heats Sunday and last year’s national points winner, said his strategy was to play upon Hanauer’s problems.
“All weekend I knew they were having problems,” Kropfeld said.
Hanauer broke a propeller during a qualifying race Saturday and his backup engine would not run in the saltwater during a Sunday morning test run.
However, Hanauer easily won his first heat Sunday and he played it safe in finishing second in his second heat. But he couldn’t make it through the final race of the season.
“I thought he had problems when he (Hanauer) went wide on the start of that final race,” Kropfeld said. “And I know he turns better than he turned on the first turn. That’s when I got on the radio and said I’d push him for at least a lap. When a guy is having problems, you push him to give him more problems.
“Maybe he’d break.”
When Hanauer stalled after a 134.886 m.p.h. first lap, Kropfeld cruised at 124.668 m.p.h. to record an easy victory that earned for him approximately $26,000.
Pierce was second at 114.986 m.p.h. and Andy Coker was third at 87.794 m.p.h.
“I got up to 160 to 165 miles per hour at one point,” Kropfeld said. “And it wasn’t much of a challenge.”
Clinching the points championship also wasn’t much of a challenge for Hanauer, who started the day with a comfortable 731-point lead over Pierce. Then Hanauer won the opening heat to become the first boat with a turbine engine to win the championship.
The points championship does not earn a driver or his teammates any additional money, but it sure pleases his sponsor. And national sponsors are hard to come by.
“I’d rather win the points title,” Hanauer said. “It’s been a great year.”
And a salty Sunday.