Expectations of a record-breaking 170-m.p.h. lap for unlimited hydroplanes on Mission Bay were dashed Saturday when drivers and owners went conservative in saving their high-tech machinery for today's Texaco Star Mart Cup.
When Mark Tate posted a world record 170.087-m.p.h. lap in the Winston Eagle last June on the Detroit River, Unlimited Racing Commission observers projected 170-plus laps for the San Diego race as Mission Bay's placid saltwater surface had traditionally produced the fastest laps in hydroplane racing.
Friday morning, when defending national champion Chip Hanauer and Miss Budweiser flirted with 170 with a lap of 169.988 around the 2.5-mile course, it seemed certain the record would fall during one of the three remaining qualifying sessions.
Hanauer, a four-time winner at San Diego, had a propeller break Friday afternoon on the second Bud boat, which caused owner Bernie Little to pull in the reins.
"I want that record as much as anybody, you know that, but we can't take a chance on not winning the championship again," said Little, a Florida beer distributor who already has 13 owners' championships in his trophy case.
After picking up 40 points as top qualifier, Hanauer needs 542 points to win his seventh individual title--and each of today's three heats and five-lap final are worth 400 points to the winner.
"It sounds easy to say all we need is 500 or so points, but in racing you never know," Hanauer said. "If we hadn't lost our other boat, we'd have tried to go for the record. With only one boat, we couldn't take the chance."
Tate, who was driving this weekend for the first time since a harrowing accident six weeks ago in Seattle, gave 170 a shot in the morning and reached 169.485 before his speed peeled the bottom off a sponson.
"We could have run 170; we had an opportunity to go faster than the 169 we ran," Tate said. "But on the second lap we lost something. There was a definite drop in boat speed, and we took it right back in."
After the crew repaired the sponson, Tate went out for a test lap to make sure everything held together but made no attempt to get up to top speed.
Miss T-Plus, with Steve David driving, reached an amazing 214 m.p.h. on the front straightaway, but the stress on the Lycoming turbine helicopter engine proved too much and it blew up the power turbine assembly.
"That was a $15,000 explosion," said Howard Leendersten, who bankrolls the team. "After that, we told Steve to take it easy. We are down to four engines now, and we have one more race (Oct. 14 in Honolulu) after San Diego."
The Kellogg's Frosted Flakes, driven by Mike Hanson, remained third fastest in today's nine-boat lineup with its Friday qualifying speed of 164.998 m.p.h., its fastest of the year.
For most of Saturday afternoon, the estimated 40,000 spectators who lined Mission Bay got most of their entertainment watching the giant cranes lift the 6,000-pound boats in and out of the water with all the ease of a chef plucking a lobster from a restaurant tank.
Even though conditions were ideal, boat after boat took to the water in the afternoon session and returned to the docks after failing to record a lap around the course.