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MOTOR RACING : Batista Has Put Money Where His Superboat Is

Ayrton Senna isn’t Brazil’s only dominating race driver on a world championship circuit this year.

Senna has won six of 11 Formula One races to take charge of the Grand Prix automobile series, but Eike Batista, another Brazilian, has won four of the five Superboat races on the Offshore Professional Tour. Superboats are the largest ocean racing boats in the world, capable of speeds up to 140 m.p.h.

Batista, who was upset last week off San Diego by Russell Wilkin of Bluffton, Ind., and Jim Dyke of Bay Village, Ohio, will be back this week, hoping to regain his winning ways in the second annual Long Beach Challenge--a two-hour race over a 17-mile course that hugs the shoreline of the Long Beach Outer Harbor.

Batista, 34, is a gold miner from Rio de Janeiro who gets his kicks driving an 18,000-pound, 48-foot catamaran powered by four turbocharged Chevrolet engines. This is only his second season on the Offshore Professional Tour but his third as a professional racer. He won the Brazilian offshore championship in 1989 and the world title last year.

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After winning the final two OPT events last year, Batista and his Spirit of the Amazon swept the first four races this year at the Florida Keys, Cocoa Beach, Fla., New Orleans and Chicago. In San Diego, two blown engines dropped the Amazon to fifth place.

Batista also became the OPT’s operator at San Diego when he purchased 85% of the tour for the next five years. He expects to invest $5 million into making a paying sport of offshore racing.

“I don’t know if we’ll ever have the ability to have paying spectators, but there are other ways to have this work, like TV and sponsors,” he said. “Not having a facility is a problem, but it also means we don’t have to pay for the facility. No one charges us for the ocean. We do need help, however, because one of the problems of the sport is that our boats cost $1.5 million and we ran last week for a purse of $13,000.

“I have been told it’s quite an experience to watch one of our races from shore. The boats are very big and very loud and very fast, and when they go by, they leave part of themselves for several minutes. Our future is in television, and when sponsors discover how spectacular our sport is, we’ll take off.”

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As chairman of the board of TVX Gold, Inc., Batista is one of the largest independent gold miners in the world, with operations in Montana, Canada and Chile, as well as Brazil. He buys claims from pick-and-shovel prospectors and applies modern strip-mining techniques to the job.

“We do $600 million in business a year,” he said. “Our biggest mine will move 50,000 tons of earth a day to find 300 pounds of gold.”

He has dedicated the Spirit of the Amazon team to the protection and preservation of the Amazon rain forest. The boat is painted green and yellow.

Among those attempting to beat Batista will be Wilkin and Dyke, in Powerboat Marine Products, a 40-foot Skater; Al Copeland of Jefferson, La., in Popeyes Diet Coke, a 50-foot Cougar Cat; Tom Gentry of Honolulu in Gentry Eagle and Jim Duvall of Vernon in Crimson Tide, a 30-foot Shadow Cat.

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Actor Chuck Norris, who drove Popeyes Diet Coke to victory last year, is not entered. However, he is scheduled to drive the pace boat.

More than 45 boats, including 12 Superboats, are expected to take the noon starting gun. The race will start in front of the Belmont Pier. Among the class favorites are Duvall, in the Pro No. 1 race, and Joseph Mach of St. Louis, in the Open class, driving Dirty Laundry, a 40-foot CUV Cat.

Briefly

SPRINT CARS--After two weeks off, California Racing Assn. drivers will return to action this weekend with two 30-lap main events--Friday night at Bakersfield Speedway in Oildale and Saturday night at Santa Maria Speedway. Defending champion Ron Shuman continues to lead fellow Arizonan Lealand McSpadden in points, 1,833 to 1,700 after 32 races.

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OFF-ROAD--Former desert racing champion Robby Gordon, who has been campaigning a sports car in International Motor Sports Assn. competition this year, will return to the High Desert Racing Assn. scene next weekend. Gordon will co-drive a Stroppe Motorsports Ford truck with veteran Manny Esquerra for the Rough Riders team in the second annual HDRA Desert Championships at Willow Springs Raceway. More than 100 vehicles are expected for the event, which fills the gap left by the closing of Riverside International Raceway, site of the closed course championships for many years. Heat races on Sept. 7 will set the fields for championship finals the next day. Racing will start at 1 p.m. both days.

MOTOCROSS--The 1992 U.S. 500cc Grand Prix season will open April 5 at San Bernardino’s Glen Helen Park. The date change should be more favorable than the past two years, when the event closed the world championship season and several European riders skipped the race because the title had already been decided. . . . Jean-Michel Bayle and Jeff Ward, who each won a moto in last Sunday’s USGP at Glen Helen, will resume their battle for the American Motorcyclist Assn.'s national 500cc championship Sunday at Washougal, Wash. Bayle leads after one event, and Ward is defending series champion. . . . Jeff Stanton, Damon Bradshaw and Mike Kiedrowski will represent the United States in the Motocross des Nations on Sept. 15 at Valkenswaard, the Netherlands. The Americans, managed by five-time world champion Roger DeCoster, will be seeking their 11th consecutive world championship.

SPORTS CARS--The California Sports Car Club will hold three days of SCCA national and regional championship races this weekend at Willow Springs Raceway. More than 250 drivers and cars are expected for the annual event. There will be 33 classes racing, including Formula Atlantic, Formula Ford, Showroom Stock, Sports Racing, GT and Super Production. Qualifying is Saturday, with eight national finals Sunday and seven regional finals Monday. Racing will start at 10:30 a.m. both days.

SPEEDWAY BIKES--Three Southern California riders--Billy Hamill of Monrovia, Sam Ermolenko of Cypress and Ronnie Correy of Fullerton--will compete Saturday night in the World Speedway Final at Goteborg, Sweden. It is the second year in a row that three Americans made the 16-rider final. Last year, Shawn Moran finished second, Rick Miller sixth and Correy tied for last. . . . Chris Manchester, 18, of Hesperia, who suffered a punctured lung in a crash at Glen Helen Speedway, will miss the rest of the season.

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STOCK CARS--Winston Racing Series sportsman main events are scheduled Saturday night at Saugus Speedway, Orange Show Speedway in San Bernardino and Cajon Speedway in El Cajon. . . . Skoal Bandit late models and modifieds will race Saturday night at Mesa Marin Speedway in Bakersfield. . . . Geoff Bodine will switch his Winston Cup ride next year from Junior Johnson’s team to Bud Moore’s. Bill Elliott, who lost his Coors sponsorship, probably will leave his family’s team to replace Bodine as Johnson’s driver.

DRAG RACING--The Nostalgia Drag Racing Assn. will hold its monthly outing this weekend at Bakersfield Raceway.


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