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Detroit Hydrofest drivers OK after ‘wild’ crash

Tony Paul
The Detroit News
Jimmy Shane (blue boat) and J. Michael Kelly (road boat) duel in the first Unlimited heat Saturday.

Detroit – Just before a nasty storm blew across the Detroit River around 3 p.m. Saturday, shutting down Hydrofest for the day, there was an even scarier scene.

A terrifying wreck in the second-to-last Grand Prix series heat of the day put a damper on things.

In the tough Turn 2 of the one-mile course, Martin Rochon was driving on the inside line and got hooked from behind by Brandon Kennedy.

Rochon's boat flipped and landed upside down, prompting rescue boats to race toward him. Kennedy slid under Rochon's boat, and stayed right-side up on the "infield," where he was visibly disgusted.

Per protocol, Rochon, 31, a French-Canadian, was ambulanced to the pit tower, where he was checked out for about a half-hour. He was OK.

Kennedy, 24, of Delaware, was then briefly examined, and also was fine – but was visibly shaken talking to reporters afterward.

"It was a wild ride," Kennedy said. "A lot of things happen in this sport, but getting run over is one I never want to have happen again.

"As drivers, we're not making millions doing this. We're friends off the course. You normally leave a little more room than that.

"But it is racing, it's one of them deals."

The boats made the turn three-wide, at about 120 mph, when the wreck occurred. It was tight, and you could see something bad coming.

Racing veterans said Kennedy was to blame, even if Kennedy suggested otherwise.

"I'm the one that got run over," Kennedy said. "It's definitely scary, but we built a strong cockpit this winter for this new boat.

"And it definitely saved my life."

Kennedy ended up with just a sore finger.

Walled Lake’s Tate makes big splash as Unlimited driver

Rochon, with his wife translating, said he was fine. Asked to describe what he saw happen, he said, "It's so early now, I don't know."

Rains arrived shortly after the wreck, postponing Saturday's final race – an Unlimited heat – to the first race of Sunday morning, just before 10 a.m.

Before racing was shut down, Walled Lake's Andrew Tate, 26, won both of his Grand Prix heats by comfortable margins.

Shane-Kelly rivalry

Things started with a thriller Saturday.

Jimmy Shane, the two-time defending Gold Cup champion, got out of position early in the first Unlimited heat of the day and started in Lane 4 – not ideal – but eventually passed rival J. Michael Kelly on the third lap of the four-lap race on the 2.7-mile course.

Shane, the leader in the series' points standings, took the race, with an average speed of 152.851, just ahead of Kelly's 152.249.

"This, to me, is some of the best racing that we've ever had in the sport," said Shane, 31, of Washington. "Whenever we get hooked up together in a heat, you know it's gonna be a great show. We prove it every time we get out on the water.

"I have a trust factor racing next to him. I know he's gonna leave me room if I'm in that position, that situation, and I know I'll leave him room. This is one of the most treacherous turns on the race course, so I wanted to make sure I left Mike a little bit of room, but still kept him honest going through the corner."

The heat win was Shane's 11th of the season; he won his 12th later in the day, just before the rains came, that one by a significant gap.

Kelly, 37, also of Washington, enjoys the rivalry with Shane, as well.

"We always have duels. If it's not in the big boats, it's against each other in the smaller boats," said Kelly, who had his final Unlimited heat postponed. "We're getting used to running against each other. And we're both probably getting tired of each other beating each other, too.

"I wouldn't have it any other way.”

Quick hits

The conditions Saturday were much worse on the water than Friday.

"Yesterday was ideal, perfect, just a slight chop," Shane said. "This is more of like what the Detroit River should be, very lumpy, very bumpy, very windy. This is what I'm used to racing on here in Detroit."

... Races on Sunday will be live-streamed at h1unlimited.com.

tpaul@detroitnews.com

Twitter @tonypaul1984