Detroit — Cal Phipps arrived on the docks of the Detroit River Sunday morning with a new boat, or the closest thing that resembled a new unlimited hydroplane boat that could compete with the favorites to win the APBA Gold Cup title.
The U1 boat of J. Michael Kelly, Phipps’ Graham Trucking teammate, suffered gearbox problems heading into the final day of competition, so the crew took the gearbox from Phipps’ boat to solve that problem, then built a new one for Phipps and tossed in a new propeller as well.
Phipps, a 44-year-old native of Sterling Heights, then competed in the two preliminary heats prior to Sunday’s final and finished a close second to Jimmy Shane in the U6 Oberto boat both times, finishing three boat-lengths behind in the second four-lap heat.
It was Shane who eventually won the Gold Cup final after Kelly was handed a one-lap penalty for reaching the 1-minute marker too early.
Phipps, 44, placed third, earning a second straight podium finish and matching his third-place finish July 6 in Madison, Indiana.
“The gearbox seemed to work well,” Phipps said after a preliminary heat. “It seemed like we got a little more acceleration and that’s what I’ve been needing all weekend. It was a different prop and a different gearbox and everything seemed to work out for us.
“That’s kind of a rough-water setup and it’s obvious we’re going to have rough water (for the final). It was rough out there and I didn’t push it too hard.”
The five-boat final was run in rough water conditions, as well, and it was the first time there were more than three boats in a heat during the weekend because of mechanical failures to boats driven by Jon Zimmerman (blow-over), Tom Thompson (gearbox, engine) and Greg Hopp (gearbox, engine).
“The 7 was awesome, well driven by Cal, who had another podium finish,” Graham Trucking owner Ted Porter said.
Phipps tried to console his teammate, the 35-year-old Kelly, after his penalty prevented him from a potential win.
“We were all right there and as my guys were counting me down I figured if I was behind Oberto (Shane), going the same speed, there’s a good chance I’m not going to get a call,” Phipps said. “I have a speedometer and I was going right at 80 miles per hour, which is the limit. I looked at J. Michael when they counted the one. I’m on an angle and to me it looked like he was safe. I don’t know where the outside line is for cut-off and probably he didn’t either.
“It’s a tough call. Obviously, J. Michael is very upset. He showed what he could do. I tried talking to him, telling him this is a very elusive trophy. J. Mike has a long career ahead of him. He’s an excellent driver. He gets better every heat. He’ll make a comeback and he will come back and win this Gold Cup.”
Zimmerman was joking and signing autographs less than 24 hours after his 360-degree blow-over during a heat Saturday.
“I feel fine,” Zimmerman said. “I chipped a tooth, got a little bump on my ribs, that’s about it.”
So, just another day at the office, huh?
“No, because I kind of messed the office up,” joked Zimmerman. “We’re going to have to work hard to get it ready for Tri-City (in two weeks). We have to find some parts or build some parts to build the boat. We had to get all the water out of the engine and get it so it didn’t rust up and get unusable by the time we got home.”
Zimmerman was shaken with the accident, but more upset at himself.
“We really thought we had a boat that would give us a chance to win the Gold Cup and we went out there with a plan to baby-sit the boat and save it for the final, but it didn’t work out that way,” he said.
“We were laying up a little bit to save something for the final, but we just hit that bump (roller) and it pumped up that little wheelie and it wouldn’t come back down. It’s hard to see that stuff coming and you really can’t do anything about it anyway. It’s there and you’re going to go through it.
“It popped up a little bit and I stepped on the canard and it felt like it was going to come back down, then once it rotated up I knew what was going on. I got mad, swore at myself a little bit and hung on for the ride.”
Zimmerman’s U9 Spirit of Qatar crew could not fix the damage (canard, sponson) caused from the blow-over, keeping him out of Sunday’s action.
Greg Hopp was still in the pits Sunday morning despite failing to get his U12 Miss DiJulio boat out on the river to compete in any of the heats.
“Our gearbox started to bind out and it took our motor out so it was a two-for,” Hopp explained of his problems during testing and qualifying Friday. “We took the motor and gearbox out. We got the gearbox apart and found some bearings internally that was fried. We just don’t have the equipment here to put it together.
“It’s very frustrating, especially since if we were running, we would be in the final, for sure. I had a good feeling coming here. I knew we weren’t the fastest boat, but I felt we could exist.”