Powerboat Racing

Jack Lowe shares his thoughts on the recent topic of piston engines making a return to H1 Unlimited

By Jack Lowe

After reading the story on the V1200 engine in development, some of my thoughts on piston powered unlimiteds:

I’ll welcome comments correcting what I’ve written. Understand that early on in the last 17 years that I’ve followed unlimited racing fairly closely, including two motorhome trips around the country (2000 and the infamous “Over my Dead Body Tour” in ’07) to enjoy the full circuit, I’ve felt piston power in unlimiteds was history and there would never be a piston engine built that could supply enough horsepower AND the reliability to survive the pounding incurred in racing against the turbine engine powered hydros.

Why did I think that way? Not even an auto factory, Chrysler, could power a team that was on the podium every event… seeing the frustration on driver Mike Weber and owner Ed Cooper’s faces as they went through five Allison engine failures in two weekends of racing years ago, and watching six of the “small” hydros, the “lites” with their relatively low horsepower (less than 1,500) engines, take to the course and many times seeing just one or two of them finish the race without breaking down.

Good seasons for piston power recently

The feeling remained with me up until this year. I must say I’ve been overjoyed at how far the Grand Prix teams had come with their engine programs and the exciting race shows those boats put on for fans. ACHA season champions Bert Henderson and Brandon Kennedy and newcomer Andrew Tate have given us some memorable races. I think before experiencing problems this season that Jerry Hopp ran one engine all season in his Grand Prix hydro. While, of course, Jimmy Shane and J Michael Kelly gave us many memorable races over several seasons in their turbine powered unlimiteds. I have to add that I’m thrilled that Ed Cooper and his Allison-powered U-3 is back racing with the unlimited fleet with popular Jimmy King in the cockpit and not having too many engine failures.

In reading “Is this the future of H1 Unlimited Hydroplane Racing, Master tinkerers hatch V1200 boat engine,” a couple of thoughts hit me right off the bat after reading the first paragraph of the very interesting story:

Turbines “are super expensive because they’re also being used in the oil fields as generators.” I would think, with oil prices taking such a dump, some of those oil field turbines might be available for bargain prices. And — please correct me if I’m wrong — put a cashier’s check for $150,000 in my hand and I think I could have a race ready turbine engine for you in a few days.

$150,000 seems to be the norm

Is $150,000 super expensive? I don’t think so. There is a V-16 engine that has already been on the dyno and produced around 4,500 horsepower and is in the marketplace and I think it may come in at maybe even a little less than $150,000. Steve Morris Engines in Muskegon, Michigan is the V-16 developer and you may see some things that interest you at his website. There is even a video of the V-16 on the dyno and it says, “This is a custom engine platform developed specifically for the DEVEL SIXTEEN hypercar. This one-of-a-kind engine platform was created, machined, assembled, and dyno-tuned in-house by us. This engine can also be reconfigured for other potential uses — such as offshore powerboats.”

Just this morning, I saw an article from Dec. 11th on digitaltrends dot com that reads, “In a giant, fossil-burning step toward legitimacy, the company has released a new video of the car’s quad-turbo, 12.3-liter V16 taking a few runs on the dyno. With 92-octane pump fuel and 20 psi of boost, the monstrous powerplant produced a whooping 3,006 horsepower and 2,407 pound-feet of torque. With a diet of race gas and 36 psi, however, the engine pushed out a staggering 4,515 hp and 3,519 lb-ft. It’s a hair short of the V16’s claimed 5,000 hp, but the engine is actually rated for a higher output than that. According to the video, the dyno simply “could not hold any more power.”

Steve Morris’ V-16 seems to be a great option: already on the dyno, capable, he says, of upwards of 5,000 horsepower so certainly able to be “detuned” — turn down the turbo boost — to around 3,000–3,500 hp to compete with the unlimiteds that run legally, and probably cost competitive with a race ready turbine.

The bottom line almost never changes

Who can argue with the turbines? The fans, of course, would overwhelmingly vote for piston power for the noise, but, realistically, in the baker’s dozen — at best — unlimited fleet, how many teams have the sponsorship to dump their turbines and invest $300,000 to $500,000 in two or three piston engines?: Zero. What teams have the their own bucks to invest that kind of money? One: Ellstrom, and I understand Erick has a new toy to play with this year and may not even race his unlimited.

Continuing “who can argue with the turbines?”: Dual turbines powered Sheikh Hassan’s magnificent 50’ plus, 5-ton offshore monster to a 244 mph speed at Lake of the Ozarks’ “Top Gun Shootout” a couple of summers ago. Miss Geico ended up going Mercury piston power (1650s) when it had to go to a backup boat after a terrible fire on its nearly unbeatable turbine powered cat a few years ago. They’ve had lots of problems with their piston engines. Granted it’s a relatively new engine, but it’s only a little over 1,500 horsepower so you’d need a couple to compete with the big guys in unlimited hydro racing.

I’ve been told Ed Cooper’s Allisons produce 4,000 horsepower or more. The bottom line in all of this boils down to, as almost always, one factor: $$$$ Will anyone make the investment in piston power? For me, as a fan, I simply hope there is enough $$$$ around to fund a 2016 unlimited hydroplane season and the icing on my cake would be a 10-hydro fleet.

Proofreading what I wrote I must add that in no way do I demean what Pete and Kevin are doing with their V1200. I admire them for their efforts. It’s just that Steve Morris has a head start and anyone with some big bucks could easily buy an unlimited hull — there are several for sale — modify it to accept a Steve Morris V-16 and go racing this season.

Happy New Year to all!

Related articles on the V1200 can be found below:

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