SAN DIEGO — For the third time since unlimited hydroplane Thunderboats were introduced to Mission Bay in 1964, the Gold Cup will be contested here today--the 82nd running of the world's most prestigious powerboat race.
The Gold Cup dates back to 1904, when Carl Riotte piloted Standard at the outrageous speed of 23.6 m.p.h. on the Hudson river.
Saturday, Chip Hanauer and the Miller American raced a lap around the 2 1/2-mile Bill Muncey Memorial course between Crown Point and Fiesta Island at 155.979 m.p.h.
It is the fastest lap in unlimited hydroplane history.
Hanauer also set a Gold Cup two-lap qualifying record of 149.327 m.p.h., the average of his first two laps, 142.676 and 155.979.
Racing officials estimated that the Miller was approaching 200 m.p.h. down the straightaway after circling Ski Island.
The previous one-lap record was 155.172 by national champion Jim Kropfeld, in Miss Budweiser, set last July in Pasco, Wash. Kropfeld also held the old Muncey Memorial record of 143.266 set last year.
Muncey, who lived in nearby La Mesa, was the world's greatest unlimited driver. He won 62 races before he was killed while racing in the 1981 world championship in Acapulco, Mexico. Two of Muncey's wins came on this same Mission Bay course, in 1978 and 1980.
Muncey's widow, Fran, is the owner of the boat Hanauer drives.
If Hanauer wins today's Miller High Life Gold Cup, he would have a niche himself in American Power Boat Assn. lore. He would become the first driver to win six Gold Cups in succession after sharing the record of five with Gar Wood, who won from 1917 to 1921.
Today's race promises to be one of the most historic of them all, if it isn't already after Hanauer's stunning performance around 11 a.m. Saturday.
"What happened today was the result of the Miller guys not giving up, no matter how tough things looked," said Hanauer, who has not won a race for more than a year and who failed to even qualify for the final heat of the Miller High Life Thunderboat Regatta here last year.
Hanauer also had a different boat from the '87 model he ran all season. The record-breaking boat, in fact, is the one in which he won the last three Gold Cups in Detroit, Seattle and Tri-Cities, Wash. It was resurrected for this race after the newer model failed to live up to expectations.
"We're the only team to test between Syracuse (Aug. 23) and here," Hanauer said. "Some of the other teams just came in here with what they ran all year, rather than try something new. It all came down today to the fact that our team at no time thought of rolling over and thinking about next year.
"This is the only positive thing that has happened to us this year, and it was a long time coming, but the never-give-up attitude of the crew made it happen."
Kropfeld, 47, has won five of six races this year and only lost the other one because he jumped the gun and was penalized a lap at Detroit. The one he wants most, though, is the Gold Cup, a race he has never won.
"The Gold Cup means something special to me because if I win, it would break Chip's string," the Cincinnati muffler shop owner said. "I think he's dominated things long enough. It's time for the monopoly to end."
Kropfeld responded to Hanauer's 155 m.p.h. lap with one of his own of 152.775 and a 146.481 average.
Later in the day, however, the Bud boat spent more time with its turbine hiccuping than it did running smoothly. The team has six Lycoming L-7 helicopter engines for today's series of three 15-mile heats and the championship race, also 15 miles. But only two of them have been running without problems.
Precedent is with Kropfeld and Miss Budweiser, however, because both previous Gold Cup races in San Diego were won by Bernie Little's Budweiser boats, driven by Bill Sterett Sr. in 1969 and Dean Chenoweth in 1970.
Racing starts today at 12:05 p.m., with the final heat at 4:40.
1. Miss Budweiser, 5,984 points; 2. Miller American, 4,000; 3. Mr. Pringles, 3,794; 4. Miss Hanover, 3,402; 5. Holset Miss Madison, 3,130; 6. Pepsi, America's Choice, 2,496; 7. Miss Jackpot, 2,326; 8. Cellular One, 1,700; 9. Oh Boy Oberto, 1,519; 10. Frank Kenney Toyota, 1,004.