Last year's Gold Cup champion Kip Brown doesn't have a boat to defend his crown. (Steve Perez / Detroit News)
Detroit — For the first time in decades, the Gold Cup races on the Detroit River this weekend will be missing two legendary drivers — Dave Villwock and Steve David.
Villwock, 60, retired before last season, having won 10 Gold Cups, including five straight.
And David, 60, was a perennial runner-up in the Gold Cup — 12 seconds in 22 starts — and announced his retirement after last season.
“It was just time,” said David, who will be sailing on his 60-footer this weekend, part of a 12-day trip. “There’s going to be some great racing in Detroit, no doubt, and I’ll miss the people, not so much the racing though.”
Still, even without Villwock and David, there still are plenty of talented drivers to watch Saturday and Sunday (qualifying and testing takes place Friday).
Eight boats are expected to make up the Gold Cup field, which doesn’t include a past champion.
Defending champion Kip Brown, 38, doesn’t have a ride — team owner Erick Ellstrom and his crew are still working on the new Spirit of Qatar.
“They’ve been building a new boat since winter and it’s just not ready yet,” Brown said. “It’s unfortunate because with all the musical chairs going on, I was hoping we could go back and repeat.”
Jimmy Shane, 28, is the favorite. He won his first heat in unlimited two years ago, then won two more heats last year. In the final, David was assessed a lane violation penalty, resulting in Shane’s boat suffering damage to its canard and ending their chances for a victory .
Shane topped the field in qualifying and won all three heats last weekend in Madison, Indiana, but jumped the gun in the final. That gave J. Michael Kelly the opportunity to dart in front and win for the first time since 2009.
Kelly is familiar with Graham boat owner Ted Porter, driving for the team a few years ago, but was left without a ride when Porter downsized from a multi-boat operation to a single one. Now, Porter is back to two boats with Kelly joined by Cal Phipps of Sterling Heights.
“Ted Porter called me and told me Graham Trucking was set to get the second boat out and wanted me to drive it,” Phipps said. “It’s my first time through the lineup (full season) and I’m really excited about it. This is my best chance (at winning). We’re fully loaded with great equipment, great propellers. Our goal is to have us both on the podium every time out.”
Phipps’ last Gold Cup final was in 2011.
Shane enters this weekend with the points lead, 1,869-1,280 over Kelly.
APBA Gold Cup
Where: Detroit River
2013 winner: Kip Brown
Tickets and more information: $15-$250; go to gold-cup.com or call (586) 774-0980 for details.
Friday: Unlimited testing begins at noon; qualifying begins at 5 p.m.
Saturday: Testing and qualifying heats; unlimited testing begins at 9 a.m.; unlimited heats at 1:40 p.m. and 4:40 p.m.
Sunday: Unlimited testing, heats and final; unlimited testing at 8 a.m.; unlimited heats begin at 11 a.m.; Gold Cup final is at 4:30 p.m.