Shane excited to be back on Detroit River for Gold Cup

David Goricki, The Detroit News
The Al Deeby Dodge unlimited hydroplane entry pushes its turbine-powered boat in the Detroit Hydrofest along the Detroit River on Friday.

Detroit — Jimmy Shane is to the unlimited hydroplane series’ Gold Cup race on the Detroit River what Dave Villwock was several years ago.

Villwock was a 10-time Gold Cup champion before retiring after his final win on the challenging course back in 2012, his fifth straight.

Now, the 31-year-old Shane will try to win for the third straight year on the rough Detroit River when he takes the 2.7-mile course Friday to prepare for Sunday’s Gold Cup final.

It is the celebration of 100 years of Gold Cup racing on the Detroit River.

“I think Detroit’s the most challenging race. It’s a driver’s course and you have to have the equipment and mental strength to win,” Shane said. “It’s historically the most challenging course we run with the spectacular corner, the Roostertail turn. There’s only a handful of drivers who know what it’s like to go 206 miles-per-hour heading into that Roostertail turn in a 7,000-pound boat. It’s very unique, hard to explain.

“It’s mentally tough, hard to do when you have to push yourself and the boat knowing the conditions aren’t ideal, but that’s exactly what you have to do to win here.”

And, that’s exactly what Shane did last year, gaining the inside lane and then leading from start to finish to beat J. Michael Kelly, whose head was pounding after the race from the conditions.

Shane was physically and mentally exhausted as well.

“That was probably the roughest water I’ve raced on here in Detroit,” Shane said after the race. “We’re just happy to be back in one piece, happy to put on a great show and happy the Gold Cup is coming back next year to Detroit because this is a driver’s course and a very challenging course.”

Last year, Shane won the Gold Cup on the Columbia River in Kennewick, Wash., after winning the prized trophy, the oldest in motor sports, on the Detroit River in 2014. The event in Detroit was a non-Gold Cup event a year ago.

Shane gets a thrill from a regular job, as well. He works as a rocket scientist for Blue Origin, a privately funded aerospace manufacturer owned by founder Jeff Bezos.

“I’ve worked there three years now and it’s gone from 200 employees when I started to 800 now,” Shane said. “We’re building sub-orbital spacecrafts with the goal of opening up access in space for the general public to travel (space tourism) and we’re looking at 2017 to make it happen (flights with test passengers). It’s extremely exciting.”

Shane is making the trip from the Seattle area with his wife, Bianca (Bononcini), and their two sons, 3-year-old Colton and Hudson, who is 5 months. Shane met Bianca on the racing scene and she actually took a few laps in the U-57 boat five years ago on the Detroit River, attempting to get her license and become the first woman to compete in Unlimited Hydroplane competition. She came up short of reaching the needed 130 mph minimum for 15 laps, reaching 126. She had competed in one-liter inboard boats in past years … and won in that series.

So, will Shane repeat on the Detroit River Sunday or will there be a surprise winner like Kip Brown in 2013 or like the late Terry Troxell in ’05?

In fact, it was Shane’s race to win in ’13. He won his heats before having his boat damaged when Steve David had a lane violation in the Roostertail turn on the initial lap of the final.

Shane, who is still competing in the U-1 for Miss Madison, knows you need to be perfect to win and then have a little luck along the way.

Sterling Heights native out

Cal Phipps, a Sterling Heights native, will be in Alabama, trying to help his team fix his U-27 Dalton Industries Unlimited Hydroplane boat instead of running on his hometown course this weekend.

Phipps’ U-27 flipped during the Governor’s Cup race on the Ohio River over the Fourth of July weekend. The blow-over crash sent him flying upside down and the boat suffered heavy damage.

Phipps escaped injury but the team was unable to fix the boat in time to get it prepared for the Gold Cup.

“Our goal was Detroit, but we came up short,” said Phipps, who works for PPG Paints in Cleveland. “It’s just not going to come together and I’m upset about it. I felt it was my best chance to win, too. We had a conference call yesterday and decided we wouldn’t be going.

“It’s upsetting since it’s 100 years of the Gold Cup, my hometown. We were really gunning and felt we had a good shot to win.”

Of his crash, Phipps replied: “I didn’t get a scratch and can’t believe it since I’ve watched the video probably 100 times. That really talks about the safety of these boats.”

Twitter: @DavidGoricki


When: Saturday-Sunday

Where: Detroit River

Schedule: Saturday — Unlimited, Grand Prix and Formula 2 heats, noon-4:35 p.m.; Sunday — Unlimited, Grand Prix and Formula 2 heats, 9:35-11 a.m., 12:55-3:15 p.m.; Formula 2 final, 2-2:30 p.m.; Grand Prix final, 3:30-3:45 p.m.; Unlimited vintage, 3:45-4:10 p.m.; Unlimited final, 4:20-4:45 p.m.

Tickets: General seating, $25 for Saturday, $35 for Sunday; $50 for a weekend pass. Parking $25 daily at Muncey, $25 for Piston Park, $15 for remote. For additional details, call (313) 329-8047 or visit