2008 Kings Cup Race Report

December 21, 2008
"It seems like the Thai guys found a bunch of speed since last year." James Berger of Gold Coast Sea-Doo uttered this phrase to me as we watched the first holeshot of Pro Runabout Open. The phrase pretty much summed up the entire weekend.
The 2008 White Sands Beach Kings Cup was held December 6-7 in Pattaya, Thailand. The Thai Jet Sports Boating Association, or TJSBA, is IJSBA's affiliate in Thailand and has put on this annual event since the beginning. The IJSBA considers this competition one of the strongest and most important in the world. However one gauges the prestige of an event, everyone in attendance agreed that this was one of the most exciting PWC races to happen in some time- seriously.
Those familiar with the Kings Cup race can tell you some of the factors that make this event so special. First, His Royal Majesty, King Bhumibol Adulyade, donates the precious metals used to make some of the coolest trophies ever seen in any sport. This year, the attendees were astounded to find that the awards were more than 99% pure silver. The event begins with an opening ceremony where military guards bring in the trophies followed by a tribute to the king. There are four of these awards presented, one to each of the winners of the "Kings Cup" classes at the event: Pro Ski Open, Pro Sport Modified, Pro Runabout 800 Superstock, and Pro Runabout Open. Second, this event features unmatchable hospitality and a focus that it totally on the competition. This Kings Cup is completely and totally about racing and camaraderie. Third, this event always acts as the season closer. It's the last big event of the year and one of the best- it puts the wind back in our sails and reminds us what the sport is all about and motivates us for the next year.
Lets get the airport protest out of the way. There was a political protest at the Bangkok Airport. The airport was shut down for some time and it caused a severe hardship for many people trying to get to the event. In fact, many enrolled competitors, who had already shipped their race craft to Thailand, were unable to come because of the uncertainty of getting a flight. Others chose to fly into neighboring airports such as Phuket and engage in a drive/taxi ride of 9 hours or more. The TJSBA administration expressed deep apologies over this situation during the opening ceremonies. They didn't need to apologize.
Politics may be done a little different in Thailand but the place remains a safe and friendly region to visit and once you were there you saw no sign of unrest or breakdown in society. So, to those who have long considered entering the King's Cup but have yet to do so, do not let this small blip of activity sway your decision. Thailand is as great of a place as it always has been.
For those who do attend, the Thai hospitality shines from the moment the event begins. The King's Cup starts with an elaborate opening ceremony. The organizers provide all athletes, teams, and guests with live entertainment including traditional Thai dancing and other international music revue. Attendees are also treated to a delicious meal of Thai cuisine. TJSBA took the occasion of this opening ceremony to honor six individuals who have recently contributed to the ever increasing prestige of the Asian contingent of IJSBA Racing. The following persons received a special "Person of The Year" award from the TJSBA:
  1. Mr. Vira Susangarakarn, Thailand, (posthumous) for being instrumental in bringing IJSBA Racing to Thailand.
  2. Fully Aswar, Indonesia, for his efforts in having PWC racing as part of the Asia Beach Games.
  3. Henry Knauf, Germany-Thailand, for his generosity in supporting numerous athletes through his Flamingo Racing Team.
  4. Fumikazu Watanabe, Japan, for his accomplishments in Freestyle at World Finals.
  5. Yousef Al-abdulrazzaq, Kuwait, for his three 800 Superstock World Finals wins.
  6. Chaowalit Kuajaroon, Thailand, for his achievements in earning many World Titles and making Thailand famous for forging some of the most competitive racers in the world.
The awards were very well received and it was truly a wonderful experience to see so many deserving people recognized.
Racing really does get better as time goes on. More people have access to the top technology and mechanics who are capable of getting the technology to perform to its potential. Speed costs less and this means that even people on the lower side of the budget are going fast. People were really, really fast this year (really!).
Fast people showed up, too. Mac, Rius, Botti, and Chaowalit are always fierce competitors and they were all there. But, in many ways, the story, this time, is about the new contingent of racers who are quickly making the transition from "tomorrow's Pro" to "today's Pro." Ellmers, Vismara, Reiterer, Rosario, Antees and Colley have been demonstrating more and more that they are ready to be considered "one of the names" when people pick possible winners from the line up.
The new names taking some of the spotlight is no more obvious than it is with Veerapong Maneechom and Chokuthit Molee (and they deserve their own paragraph in this report). Veerapong has long been considered a very strong competitor. But his endurance and diversity of riding ability are starting to shine. He nearly won the Kings Cup for Pro Ski and rivaled Molee for a very close second place in Pro Runabout 800 (two seconds and a first against Molee's two firsts and a second).
He also tried his hand at Novice Freestyle and tied for second place in points. "Chuck" Molee, who has earned world titles and battled out with the best, never quite got the recognition that was bestowed upon Chaowalit Kuajaroon. That's in the past. Molee literally shocked the event to capture an unprecedented three King's Cups and did it running back to back races. Molee was two positions away from keeping all 4 Kings Cups in Thailand for the first time. These two will be headline names at future events.
Pro Runabout was probably the surprise class. Chris MacClugage is a multi time world champ and is usually the favorite in this class. Reining Kings Cup champ, Anthony Antees has fast equipment, he can ride it, and is consistent. Molee was on Antee's winning boat from 07 and had the home field advantage. You don't count out Botti who just came off a World Finals where he finished top 8 in this class on a Stock Class Legal runabout. Cesare Vismara finished 4th at the Finals and is primed for the podium. Ekachon Kingchanslip drew first blood in Moto 1 by surprising the field with a win. Japan's Hajime Isahai took a close second with Molee forced to deal with a close third.
Mac had boat issues as did Rosario and Botti. Antees got some bad water and never seemed to recover from it. In Moto 2, Molee delivered a strong win with the day's high points rivals having sufficient problems to keep them out of striking distance for the win. In Moto 3, bad luck struck for Chuck (sorry, I couldn't resist) and he suffered severe mechanical difficulties half way through and came in for repair. This seemingly handed the win back to Isahai with Molee forced to limp around the track under partial power for the balance of the race. However, the tables would turn back as an illegal top deck repair would void Japan's win. That's one for Molee.
Pro Sport was not a surprise class. The Thai guys are always fast here. The only thing they love more than the Sport Class is winning the Sport Class. So, while it was uncertain whether Molee, Kuajaroon, or Maneechom would win, the fact that one of them would win was surely no surprise. Kuajaroon's Sport PWC seemed to be off a little bit and he never made it into the rivalry between Maneechom and Molee. Maneechom kept us guessing by trading with Molee a second place for a first, but Molee got the final Third place and earned took the overall. That's two for Molee.
Pro Runabout 800 was no surprise or uncertainty. Molee came ready to win. Kuajaroon seemed to be absent some engine power in this class, too. Saroj Pimnil earned an early second place but couldn't repeat in Motos two or three. Sudapet Tansai had bad luck in Moto one but came back for two consecutive second place finishes in Motos two and three. Aero Aswar was the highest placing non-Thai rider at 11th place. Not a bad debut at King's Cup for the rookie from Indonesia. In the end, Molee swept all three Motos which earned him his third King's Cup.
Ski Class competitors are normally pretty insistent that the core and focus of PWC racing is Ski. If they were on the beach for the King's Cup's Pro Ski Motos then they would have some powerful ammunition to substantiate their claims. The beach was focused on this race- especially the third Moto. Rius came to win. His Final's Pro Runabout holeshots performances seem to have rekindled his focus on accumulating number 1 plates. He was probably the most prepared with equipment (or at least equipment that showed up or showed up with the pilot). Rius started Moto 1 with a win. Reiterer brought people to their feet with his second place finish. Mac finished a strong third, reminding people that he is always in a fight.
Moto 2 was a shake up with Japan's Kazuo Hatori taking a win and Maneechom earning a second after a 5th in the opening heat. Rius and Reiterer suffered some setbacks during the the second moto as did Mac. This opened up some very interesting developments for the third Moto.
Moto three started with Rius poised for a win with Maneechom in striking distance and Reiterer looking at a podium finish with a win possible, but not likely. Rius took the start and held it by a long margin for the first half of the race. Maneechom was keeping pace and starting to inch up. Reiterer was keeping pace as well. The beach crowd had settled on Rius for the winner with talk about what would could potentially happen to keep all four King's Cups in Thailand. Then Rius' drive seemed to slow. The rest of the contenders swarmed on him like piranhas. Then Maneechom passed Rius. The mostly Thai crowd absolutely went ballistic. Maneechom led for some time and then Reiterer slipped past him.
While probably disappointed as nationalists, the crowd roared again at the sight of this awesome racing spectacle. Holders and mechanics ran around the beach mumbling numbers like Dustin Hoffman in Rainman as a few more competitors passed Rius. Maneechom was being declared a possible winner if the ranks stayed the same. Two bouys before the checkered flag, Jean Baptiste Botti dealt Thailand two blows at once by passing Maneechom for a second place finish. Reiterer would win the King's Cup. Maneechom may not have had the trophy but he was the hometown hero none-the-less.
Some behind the scenes things you missed by not attending:
  1. Chris MacClugage and I trying to convince Jeff Jacobs to come back and race ski.
  2. Jean Baptiste Botti's boat not showing up on time and him borrowing the backup of the backup.
  3. Henry Knauf's Flamingo Team employing more than 80 persons at Kings Cup.
  4. Jeff Jacob's stating the Botti is probably the best Pro Ski racer right now (an honor as big as a King's cup win).
  5. Team India's announcement of a new PWC Race Team project that is going to send shockwaves through the community.
Asian Multisports/TJSBA managers Drake and Pimonporn outdid themselves in a quality event. The 2008 King's Cup was one of the best events of the year. King's Cup is always the first weekend in December. We hope to see you at the next one. Congratulations to everyone who made this event such a success.