The city of Pattaya, Thailand itself is a huge contrast between the 60s fishing village it was, and the modern Asian tourist destination for Eastern Europeons that it has become. The beaches are picturesque, the hotels, restaurants and bars range from historic to just built, and the attitude of the locals is kind, friendly, honest and anything goes… and I mean pretty much anything. All of this makes this one of the most interesting locations for a PWC race I have ever seen!
As I arrived from Bangkok to Pattaya Monday afternoon with the other members of the Jettribe USA Team, one of the first things I saw out of the bus window, was all the skis, boats and shipping crates lining the side street that leads to the entrance of the host hotel, the Furama. I’m not really sure how long they had been sitting in the street, but there they were untouched just like they had been shipped. I was shocked, that in a place where a good weeks wage is $40 dollars US, that even my steel crate was still there, let alone my RXP-X race boat stuffed full of gear!
Tuesday morning that same street was buzzing with people from all over the world, unpacking some of the fastest watercraft in world from their shipping containers and crates. In front of the Furama across the main road is the boat launch into the Gulf of Thailand. For about $6, six of the boat launch workers (five on foot and one on a tractor with a homemade boat trailer) will pick up the skis and boats out of the crates, drive them to the ramp, and put them in the water.
The Gulf air smelled and sounded like a drag strip with all testing going on. The roar of the big open four stroke boats, the unmistakable high RPM scream of the two strokes skis and smaller runabouts, the smell of high octane fuel; this was the first hint of what the 2012 TJSBA’s King’s Cup and the fastest racers in the world had in store for Pattaya over the next five days.
After making sure my PX was ready for practice and tech inspection on Wednesday and Thursday, and that it’s long journey from Lake Havasu didn’t damage anything, those six guys and a tractor returned the PX back to its crate. Even though everything gets serious on the race days, there are a couple days and nights with some free time if you are not busy wrenching.
One of my favorite things about watercraft racing is the locations… you have to have some fun while you are there! At the brilliant suggestion of Pro 800 and Runabout racer Eric Lagopoulos, a few of us rented scooters. Unlike the US, in Asia it’s not embarrassing to ride one; they are the preferred and most used form of transportation. It is the best $30 I spent the entire week.
Traffic laws are more like suggestions over there, and even though you are supposed to drive on the left, you can pass anywhere anytime. If you do get pulled over the “ticket” resembles something like a bribe and is an original Thailand experience all by itself. You have to pay $30 (and I think we could have haggled if we were not in a hurry) on the spot and off you go. There is nothing like a four man scooter gang weaving in and out of buses, truck taxis, bicycle street meat food carts and tuk tuks along side the locals.
Having your own wheels to trek the half mile or so back and forth to the race site with gear, or even hauling your ski behind you is necessary, and so is making it to Walking Street at least once while you are there. Walking Street is an entire book worth material all it’s own and the heart of entertainment for men, women and some in between in Pattaya. There is no better way to do all this and explore the city than to pull up, valet park your scooter and experience the sights and sounds.
Wednesday the race site transformed from an empty five story set of bleachers into a beach full of officials, racers and vendors like Yamaha, Cannon, Casio, ETS and Jettribe to name a few. It was a day of setup, registration, tech inspection and open practices.
Thursday was a continuation of Wednesday that ended with the riders meeting in the bleachers as the sun was setting over the Gulf of Thailand. Thursday night was another unique experience in the watercraft racing world: the Opening Ceremony at the Furama Ballroom. A host of government officials representing Thailand and the city of Pattaya gave speeches, rolled out the red carpet and presented the three coveted King’s cups trophies to the audience of racers, crew, family and friends.
This was followed by a tradition Thai war drum dance done by a handful of Thai performers. The night closed with a giant buffet of wonderful, traditional Thai food prepared by the Furama staff. This was truly a treat for all the participants in the King’s Cup, and our hosts the TJSBA and Thailand put on a truly classy event like no other race I have experienced.
Friday, Saturday and Sunday the mood changed from festive to a competitive. Even though there were huge cash payouts on the line, there was a comradery amongst the race teams. As we took our places, side-by-side down the beach under our country’s respective tents provided by the TJSBA, the Thai people’s friendliness and attitudes, along with the TJSBA’s organization, shined through, adding to the uniqueness that is the King’s Cup event.
The grand prix style four moto system, the swell and chop in the bay and the seemingly forever long back straight followed by the coarse split, had it’s way of testing the abilities of the racers, mechanics and their machines.
The battle for one of the three King’s Cup in Pro Ski Open came down to the very last moto. After two of four motos it looked like Steven Dauliach of France might run away with the overall win. But in moto 3, Chris MacCluggage of the USA took 1st place and made up ground after Dauliach lost precious points finishing 3rd behind Dustin Motzouris of South Africa. The air was thick with anticipation and suspense all the way to moto 4’s checkered flag with Dauliach holding MacCluggage off and taking the moto 4 and overall win for the King’s Cup. MacCluggage took the 2nd and Hideyuki Kurahashi rounded out the podium in 3rd.
Team USA hopeful Rick Sherker had a tuff week with an illness affecting his performance with his best finish being 3rd in moto 2.
The Pro Runabout 800 Open story can be summed up in one word… Thailand! This King’s Cup was undoubtedly staying in Thailand. The Thai’s swept 1st-5th spots in three of four motos. The overall points panned out like this; Teera Settura, Suthiwat Chaisirivichiean and Teerapong Khungieng in the 1st, 2nd and 3rd podium spots respectively and Phoemphon Teerapatpanich and Pradit Buree in 4th and 5th overall. Notably, Team Jettribe USA’s rider Eric Lagopoulos finshed 5th in moto 1 and 6th in motos 2-4 and was the only one to break the Thai’s 1st-5th streak.
In Pro Runabout Open (the big boys going for the last cup) James Bushell of the UK started moto 1 and 2 in a similar situation as Dauliach did Pro Ski class with two first place finishes. Veerapong Maneechom of Thailand finshed moto 1 and 2 with a 2nd and 3rd place, with Jared Moore of South Africa in the mix with a 3rd and 2nd in moto 1 and 2. In Sunday’s moto 3, Maneechom takes the win with Bushell in 2nd followed by Chaowalit Kuajaroon of Thailand in 3rd. Again the outcome of moto 4 held everyone in suspense to see who would be taking home the King’s Cup. Maneechom took the holeshot and led the race as an audience of Thai’s cheered and watch, louder and more intently with every lap. With Kuajaroon in 2nd and Bushell in 3rd, Thailand’s Maneechom would go on to finish the race in 1st, take the overall win and keep the King’s Cup at home in Thailand. Bushell finished with 2nd overall and Kuajaroon took the 3rd place podium spot. Jared Moore finished his weekend with a great showing and a 4th overall in the points.
Pro Freestyle was fierce with one tenth of a point separating 1st and 2nd on the Podium! Kazuaki Sakaida held off Naoya Hamanaka putting Japan in the one and two spots. Veerapong Maneechom, Thailand’s King’s Cup Pro Runabout Open hero took 3rd place on the Podium, and two more Japanese riders Masahiro Kamezaki and Haruki Tsukamoto finished 4th and 5th to close out the top five.
A couple other things worth mentioning: Yuki Kurahashi was the only one pull off a sweep, winning all four motos in Pro Am Women’s Ski, there was a really cool Flyboard intermission with a couple guys showing off some cool aerial acrobatics and of coarse, last but not least the beautiful Thai girls and the bikini contest.
An exclamation point was put on the end of 2012 racing season with the Jet Ski King’s Cup World Cup Grand Prix! Instead of wanting to come back home to the states, take a few months off from racing to regroup for 2013, it has left me wanting more.
So, back out on the water I go waiting impatiently for next year’s race season!