The pinnacle of 6 litre boat racing seems a long way from skiing on Stevens Weir at Wakool, but for Tim Shannon those days of choosing skiing on the water over baking on the cricket pitch have served him well.
Tim and wife Stacey now reside in Canberra and seven years ago decided to build a race boat. Tim had friends who raced displacement boats and had previously ski raced himself in such events as the Southern 80.
He was lured to the new form of racing by the camaraderie and thrill of displacement boat racing.
The boat is called ‘Shananigans’ but those in the fraternity affectionately refer to it as ‘The Silver Bullet’. The boat has a laminated hull made of layers of fibreglass, carbon fibre, foam and resin to hold it all together.
The throbbing heart of the boat is a Dodge 6 litre V8 Nascar engine putting out 850hp, with a cast block and alloy heads, 12:1 compression and with all the right trimmings to see the boat rev out to an eye watering 9,000rpm.
These dizzying rpms would send the rotating assembly and valve components of a stock V8 engine into orbit.
As the boats never drops its revs below 6,000rpm, one could only imaging the camshaft lobes that must be the relative size of Uluru.
The engine is fed by an 800cfm carburettor and converts the potential energy of the 105 octane fuel being drawn into the cylinders into a spectacle of speed and noise, aided by the extractors to a straight through exhaust with a little water injection to limit the ear rupturing potential of a V8 at 9000rpm.
The engine is mated to a Haynes & Hellyer V drive gearbox. There is only one gear — in gear and out of gear are your only options.
With this package you end up with a boat in race trim weighing in at 800kg with 850hp available at the loud pedal.
This is the holy grail of power to weight ratio, basically 1:1. With this two gear position, if I were at the helm it would be neutral, drooling over the melodic thumping of the lumpy cam and in gear, probably me screaming like a little girl in a mix of sheer joy and terror as the boat attempts to force my internal organs out the back of my body.
To put this into perspective this ‘silver bullet’ can perform a 90 degree turn at, wait for it, 80mph.
That’s the best part of 129km/h, in a car it would be near on impossible to achieve the coefficient friction required to keep tyres attached to road and you from death.
So, what’s it like to drive? “If it’s easy to drive, it’s not quick enough” said Tim with a chuckle.
In going fast whether it be on land or water or even in the air, there is a golden rule that friction equals control but comes at the expense of speed.
If we have tyres that grip really well, we feel safe and the car is easy to drive, but that friction keeps slowing us down thanks physics.
We can’t get away from physics even though me trying to jump a fence would like to try, but we can make our car, boat or plane more unstable and faster with less friction.
To demonstrate, think about a kid’s plastic slip and slide, we put it out on the lawn and add water, the kids are having a ball.
Then Uncle Bob has a few beers and decided that adding dishwashing liquid would be a great idea.
The children are now sliding on the same slide but with much less friction, more speed, less control and shear terror for mum to watch the disaster unfold.
‘Shananigans’ has been clocked at an unofficial top speed of 137mph (220km/h), not bad considering the official world record for this category of boat is 130mph.
To have an official record you need to fly UIM officials over from Italy to have it verified.
Surprisingly there are two people mad enough to race this boat at full speed — Tim and Chris Pugsley, who is regarded as one of the best drivers in the world.
Chris’s skill has seen the boat win National Championships, the Trojan Trophy, the Melton Gold Cup and even the 2018 Unlimited Championship. The unlimited class has boats of up to 2500hp running superchargers and burning alcohol.
Tim has a crew of up to five people who help him on race day. The boat and crew have travelled to places like Adelaide, Taree, Melbourne and they have even been invited to Tasmania and the USA.
Cost is prohibitive when it comes to taking the boat to the USA, but the boat has raced the yanks and won when three US boats headed down under last season.
When the boat was raced at Lake Boga on Saturday, January 11, the weekend was not without its challenges. The boat was having electrical issues in race one and two before successfully taking out a class win and placing second overall for the Victorian Cup.
The course the boats run is a sausage shape, consisting of a 610m to 800m lap and varied corner radius depending on a two or three buoy turn.
The boats race five at a time with a marshalling boat getting competitors into a line before the mad scramble down the straight.
Strategy plays a big part in successful boat racing, the art of finding fastest way around a corner is not as straight forward you might think.
When racing in the unlimited class the ‘silver bullet’ can’t compete with the sheer straight line speed of bigger boats, but the ability to run deeper into the corners allows them to remain competitive.
This does however present challenges. On more than one occasion the slip up the inside of a bigger boat has resulted in the larger vessel running over the top of ‘Shananigans’.
Visibility out of the boats is quite limited with a full cockpit hampering vision. Boats that exceed 105mph are required to have a full cockpit and oxygen systems for driver safety.
On the boat’s debut three years ago, the field that was neck and neck racing in 6 litre carburetted class was shocked to see the new boat finish three quarters of a lap ahead to take out the win.