Detroit News sports writer Gregg Krupa talks with Andrew Tate, of Walled Lake, racing in this weekend's Spirit of Detroit Hydrofest off Belle Isle. Gregg Krupa, The Detroit News
Detroit — The big “thunder boats,” the unlimited hydroplanes, are back on the Detroit River's historic course this weekend, and Andrew Tate, of Walled Lake, has the H1 Unlimited Hydroplane Racing Series in the palm of his hand.
The fourth-generation power boat driver hopes to eventually match his father’s 1991 and 1994 APBA Gold Cup wins with the first of his career on Sunday.
Tate is also intent on ending one era in his sport, and starting another.
With a whopping 1,998-point lead in the series over the five-time defending champion Jimmy Shane through seven of the nine racing dates on the schedule, Tate could end the Shane's dominance and put a driver from Michigan at the pinnacle.
Born to the sport, and nurtured by a family dedicated to it, the 2007 graduate of Plymouth High said taking nothing for granted is a big part of his challenge.
“Obviously, we have a points lead,” said Tate, 29, whose family runs the Sun Coating Company, an industrial parts supplier, in Plymouth. “But the U-9 Delta Realtrac team is taking it one day at a time.
“It’s racing, because anything can happen.
“One bad day can change the course of the rest of the year, and potentially someone’s life within the sport. So, you can’t relax or get comfortable.
“Confidence is key, but there’s no room to be comfortable. If you relax, that’s when bad things happen and people can get hurt.”
With a prohibitive lead, which could allow to Tate to race poorly in Detroit as well as Sept. 14-16 in San Diego and still win the championship, he knows his chief rival.
“There’s a big blue boat from Washington, and it’s called the Homestreet Bank,” Tate said. “And Jimmy Shane is the driver. He is the five-time defending national high-points champion.
“He’s definitely a favorite and someone who I have always had to keep an eye on, and what he’s doing or not doing during the course of a weekend, to beat him."
Shane, who is also the defending Gold Cup champion, said the season has not gone as expected. But he is in a new boat, and likes how it is behaving in the water.
“There’s been a lot of challenges that we’ve had to overcome throughout the season,” said Shane, whose run of five consecutive series championships is second only to Dave Villwock’s seven (1998-2004) in Miss Budweiser.
“We just decided that after all of the events that have occurred before Seafair (the last race, in Seattle, won by Tate) that we were just going to go ahead and make the switch, 100 percent, and concentrate on the new boat for the Seafair race.”
The result, Shane said, is a lot of comfort in the cockpit with the team’s fastest lap ever on the Lake Washington course, qualifying first and wins in every preliminary heat.
But a penalty set Shane and the Miss Homestreet team back, and he finished fifth.
He believes the new boat served notice to the other four teams that will be competing in Detroit — Miss Homestreet is a force with which they must reckon.
“We’re very excited to be bringing it to the biggest, and one of the fastest, race course on the circuit in Detroit,” Shane said.
Against Shane's new boat and the extended string of championships, Tate will throw his powerful boat, skilled and veteran team, and a gene pool unmatched in his sport, and many others.
His great-grandfather, grandfather, father and mom all raced power boats.
His dad, Mark, won 12 unlimited races from 1990 to 2004.
“Obviously, we’ll have a lot of friends and family at the Detroit race this year,” Tate said.
“It’s the Gold Cup. It’s the oldest trophy in motor sports and to put my name on that, to join my father would mean a lot to me and my family.”
To win, Tate will have to master arguably the toughest course in the series.
He narrated a trip around it:
“The first turn is down by Belle Isle, and it is the widest, biggest turn on the H1 Unlimited Circuit," he said. “It’s essentially another straightaway. You don’t really lose any speed.
“You continue to gain speed through that corner, as you exit on to the back chute which that takes you down in front of the Detroit Yacht Club.
“When we get to the tightest turn on the circuit, which is known as the Roostertail turn, we’re going about 200 miles an hour, and pulling probably three or four Gs (gravitational force) going into that corner."
Beyond challenges in the turns, there are other devilish features.
“Obviously, there is a current,” Tate said. “And, as the water is flowing down river, it’s hitting different depths.
“And, with those depths, it is essentially changing what the water is doing on the surface."
The “Whittier Bumps” are in front of the historic hotel.
The second buoy in the Belle Isle turn signals bumps, or potholes.
“And, again, you’ll run into some more rough water, right in front of the Detroit Yacht Club before you enter the Roostertail turn,” Tate said.
“I would compare it to something like driving down I-75 and hitting all of these potholes without a suspension, shock absorbers, or any sort of comfort. It’s kind of a wild ride, and you feel every bump.
“And the more boats that are out there, the rougher the water is, the more bumps there are, and the harder you’re hitting.”
APBA Gold Cup
When: Aug. 24-26
Where: Detroit River