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Local teams covet powerboat titles

Powerboat racer Steve Miklos likes to win, but not by too much.

"The whole idea is to have evenly-matched boats," said Miklos, competition director for the St. Petersburg-based American Power Boat Association Offshore. "In this sport you can have two boats run a 100-mile race and still finish within seconds of each other."

Miklos, throttleman for Team Vortec Extreme, and his teammate, driver Gary Deciucies, just returned from the Bahamas where they captured the National Championship in the APBA's new Super Vee Light class.

Miklos and Deciucies are scheduled to leave for Key West today, hoping to cap their record-breaking season with a World Championship.

"The great thing about Super Vee Light, like the Factory and Super Cat classes, is that the competition is always so close," Miklos said. "In the Bahamas, we had five boats racing, and every one of them held the lead at one point or another during the race."

Miklos and APBA chairman Michael Allweiss have spent about three years working to develop tight specifications and rules to avoid the type of one-sided competition that has plagued offshore powerboat racing.

There was a time when all it took to win an offshore powerboat race was money. The team with the deepest pockets, not the best driver or throttleman, usually won.

But that changed three years ago. The key to the APBA Offshore's new format is the Certified Racing Engine program, which ensures all boats in the Factory, Super Cat Light and Super Vee Light series are using the same equipment.

The streamlined classes, designed to create parity for competitors and to provide "deck-to-deck" racing for fans, is popular.

"Our goal was to develop a racing product that was affordable," Miklos said. "We wanted to have classes that you could get into without a whole lot of money or mechanical knowledge."

Performance powerboats, including those featured in theAPBA Offshore races, make up about 4 percent of the total boat sales in the United States, roughly $435-million out of $11-billion in sales, according to the National Marine Manufacturers Association.

A Factory 1 boat, a single-engine, vee-bottom favored by many entry-level racers, costs about $65,000. Its twin-engine counterpart, the Factory 2, costs about $125,000.

The single-engine Super Vee Light, the boat that Miklos and Deciucies raced this season for the first time, cost about $85,000. The twin-engine version is $170,000.

"The difference between the Factory boat and the Super Vee Light is the canopy," Miklos said. "With an open cockpit, the Factory boat is dual purpose. You can race it and take it out to Shell Key on the weekend. But a canopied boat, like the Super Vee, is strictly for racing."

Because they are certified and sealed at the factory, the Super Vee Light's General Motors Vortec and Mercury 525 engines are within a few horsepower of each other.

"There is less than five horsepower or 1 percent engine variance," Miklos said. "So everybody is working with the same power."

Miklos and Deciucies also were able to run the seven-race national circuit without replacing the engine.

"A few years ago, it was not uncommon for the big catamarans to go through an engine every race," Miklos said. "That made the cost of racing prohibitive for a lot of people."

The new Super Cats, theAPBA's premier class, usually get two races out of an engine. "Our long-term goal is to develop a Super Cat engine that can run three to five races," he said.

Miklos' GM Vortec also runs on 87-octane unleaded gasoline available at any service station, as opposed to the 114-octane race fuel that costs $6 a gallon.

"What we have done is given GM an opportunity to test their truck engines in the harshest environment known to man," Allweiss said of the Vortec program. "There are no more demanding conditions than in offshore powerboat racing."

Miklos and Deciucies won't be the only area powerboat racers competing at the World Championships. Clearwater's Hugh Fuller, the defending Super Cat champion who is coming off a win in the Bahamas, hopes to add another title to his racing resume.

St. Petersburg residents Todd Werner and Steve Ingle of Super Cat Light (outboard/triple) Flowmaster hope to win their second World Championship. Werner and Ingle won the world and national titles two years ago and were national champions again in 2001. But the Flowmaster crew has had a rough year after opening the season with a win in Daytona.

Steve Armstrong and Shawn Mobley, two more locals in the Super Cat Light class, won the second race of the season at Marathon in Moneyshot and hope to do well beginning Wednesday.