Fresh from his team's victory at the Naples Powerboat P1 Grand Prix, Fountain Worldwide/King of Shaves Team Manager Chris Witty chatted to Crash.net about his foray into the world of Powerboat P1 racing.

Q:
Knowing your motor sport pedigree, why P1 and not F1?

Chris Witty:
I did my stint in F1 back in the early 80s with Toleman. It was great starting from the bottom and working our way forward. Okay, so we didn't quite win a Grand Prix, but when you had people in the team like Rory Byrne, Pat Symonds and Ayrton Senna, to name but three, it had pretty good pedigree. Much of that much is down to the team's creator, Alex Hawkridge.

Q:
What got you started in powerboat racing?

CW:
It was in 1979 when I just started working at Toleman after I left Autosport. The Toleman Group bought Cougar Marine - one of the pioneers in offshore race boat design - and my first event was the World Championships in Venice that year, which was won by a Cougar hull. After that I used to spend one week at a Grand Prix and the next at a powerboat event, looking after the PR and sponsorship programmes. Talk about life in the fast lane! It was around this time that I got to know Steve Curtis, the eight-time UIM Class 1 World Offshore champion and son of the owner of Cougar Marine, and we've become good friends.

Q:
How does it compare to the other forms of motor sport you've been involved in?

CW:
It has a different appeal insofar as some people prefer going fast on water, some om tarmac or gravel. But the thrill is the same: it's all about winning with an engine behind you. Powerboat racing is what F1 racing was like 25 years ago. Maybe that's why I like it!

Q:
How does it feel to be at the sharp end of the championship having taken victory in your first race of the season?

CW:
It's a feeling of inner contentment. You look at the rules, assess what you think will be a winning combination and then you start putting it all together. The right engines, the right hull, the right drive system, the right mechanics, the right race crew. For me, the most important facet to this whole programme was persuading Paul Ray, CEO of Ilmor Engineering Inc in the USA, to support my idea to broaden awareness of their new Marine division throughout Europe by competing, rather than advertising to a market that speaks 23 different languages!

Q:
How much testing time did you have before entering the series?

CW:
The race boat first ran at the Fountain factory in Washington, North Carolina on Friday, April 20. I think it had about an hour's running before being loaded and sent off to the docks. It arrived in Naples still shrink-wrapped!

Q:
How long have you been working on the entry to the 2007 season?

CW:
I have been working on it for close to two years. I first started talking to Ilmor back in 2005 about a number of options available to them in offshore racing. I did some racing in the USA last year in a six year old Scarab with the Ilmor engines, but I didn't feel it was a good enough package. The new hull, drives, engines and crew all fell into place at the Miami Boat Show in mid-February.

Q:
Of course you want to win the championship, but who do you really want to finish ahead of? The one other British team in the Evolution class, or do you have someone else in mind?

CW:
We want to win the championship and be ahead of everyone, particularly the great man himself, Fabio Buzzi!

Q:
What made you go for Ilmor over, say, Isotta Fraschini (championship leaders) or other suppliers?

CW:
The Powerboat P1 series is a power-to-weight class. Diesels are big, heavy and not as responsive (thanks to turbo lag), which is, obviously, a disadvantage around the shorter six mile P1 courses with lots of turns. A diesel boat may outrun you around Malta or the Isle of Wight but, as we saw in Naples, our team made good starts, built up a lead and controlled the races from the front. The Buzzi hull, which is a patrol boat design, did get the fastest lap in both races so it's not slow - just cumbersome.

As for the Ilmor, which is actually the all-aluminium Dodge Viper V10 engine, it's lightweight, has fantastic torque, a good rev band and, being normally aspirated, instant throttle response. Despite what others may think, our engines are rated at 625bhp although Ilmor do produce a 700bhp version. But to run that power output and take the additional 525 kilo weight penalty would drastically affect our performance. There's no point. It was driveability, not outright horsepower, that won us those races. In my opinion, it's the best engine in P1 by far.

Q:
What experience from F1/IRL have you, and the guys at Ilmor, been able to draw on to help you to do so well, so fresh out of the box?

CW:
The engine is a proven product. Ilmor Marine have been developing the design since 2004 and have sold several hundred into the American high performance boat market. Although it could be used in Class 1 and produce 900+ HP, Ilmor see little point in going down that route and the instability it brings. The Ilmor V10 is a production based unit used in a class were production based components are encouraged.

Q:
How much more development will you be doing on the V10 over the course of the season?

CW:
We run production units and our engines can be bought by anyone after the races.

Q:
How closely does the motor relate to the road-going version? Does much have to be changed to make it into a Marine engine?

CW:
Surprisingly close. If we needed a spare, then we'd be off to the local Dodge dealer looking for a Viper to borrow!

Q:
How did the partnership of James and Craig come about?

CW:
Craig Wilson, although British, is the President of Fountain Worldwide, the international sales agency for all Fountain boat products. When they realised how many of their competitors were going to race in P1, coupled with the success of Donzi and Dragon last year, it was a no-brainer for them. The fact that Reggie Fountain is so passionate about racing made the whole deal come alive.

The boat was brand new and based on the all-conquering SuperVee hull from 2007. The only proviso was that it had to be built 'heavy' to meet the P1 regs, about 2000lbs heavier than normal in fact. So it's strong: built for the Mediterranean, Baltic and English Channel!

Part of the arrangement with Fountain was that Craig would throttle and his company would provide the boat. It also happened that his father, Mark, is a consultant for Arneson so the surface drives came as part of the package as well. James Sheppard was recommended to me by Steve Curtis as one of the best drivers to come out of the UK Honda powerboat series so employing him was an easy decision for me. He'd also proven himself by winning the SuperVee World Championships in Key West last year in a drive I set up for him with Nigel Hook. The fact that they beat the works Fountains helped convince Reggie he was the right choice.

Q:
What did James think of P1 compared to Class One?

CW:
That's a question you really need to ask James. I know he hasn't given up on Class 1. He's very ambitious, very focused and feels he still has a point to prove. Whether he ever gets the equipment underneath him and a throttleman as capable as Steve Curtis remains unanswered for the time being. Certainly monohull racing is his forte.

Powerboat P1 website: www.powerboatp1.com
Ilmor Marine website: www.ilmor.com

 

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