It is the world’s longest continual race, a full 300-miles (30 laps circling a 10-mile course encompassing almost the entirety of Lake Havasu, Arizona). It is also possibly, the single most challenging one-day event in all of competitive personal watercraft racing. Not only are challengers required almost superhuman levels of endurance and physical ability, but logistical skills, methodical planning and steeled determination.
Equally, no racer is alone, as a full credit of teammates are needed to parlay the riding responsibilities (two riders for runabout classes and three for all standup ski classes), but to man the pit crew, tasked with extracting and launching the craft several times throughout the race, refueling without spillage and help in exchanging the riders when called for.
Some have even speculated that the annual Mark Hahn Memorial Havasu 300 is also the single-most expensive single-day event, requiring upwards to $30,000 to remain competitive; weighing in costs for purchasing and building a worthy craft capable of surviving the 300-mile course, the ATV or SxS and dolly to launch from, the fuel, tools and equipment, not to mention feeding and housing the persons to staff one’s crew.
And when all has been planned and paid for, even the best will fail to complete the race. This year alone, some of the world’s finest fell to misfortune: Russel Marmon only completed one lap on a turbocharged Kawasaki Ultra 310X before falling to the tow rope. Two-time previous Mark Hahn champion Craig Warner remained in the Top 5 until an elongated pit stop ate up precious minutes, pushing him further in the pack.
Another previous Mark Hahn Memorial winner, Mark Gerner wrestled with strategy as inclement weather upset plans for use of a 80-85mph turbo Yamaha FX SVHO, opting instead for a more reserved tactic, a near-stock Ultra 310X. The Kawasaki served valiantly, but the conditions – albeit rough, particularly as winds picked up – weren’t enough to hold back the flock of tuned Yamahas that pulled ahead.
Most upsetting of these was Russian duo Yury Riabko and Peter Desmer who led the race handily aboard an exceptionally fast turbocharged Yamaha FX SVHO for nearly 28 consecutive laps before the monumental stresses from excess speed and the wind-churned 4-foot chop battered the Yamaha’s hull to its breaking point. After an unmatched lead, the pair ended in fifth place when the checked flag waved.
So why would anyone undergo these trials – both physically and financially – for a single day’s race? The answer is quite simple: for glory. The Mark Hahn Memorial has become unequivocally one of the premier races in the world. Completion of the race is monumental. Finishing a champion is herculean. It has become the Everest of our sport and no better salute to the man its named after. Event organizer Mike Follmer told The Watercraft Journal, “I feel that by having 16 countries represented this year and us being recognized around the world says it all […] We are now the biggest offshore event in the US (and world), and we’re very proud of that.”
To Follmer’s point, the world’s finest converged on Lake Havasu City the final day of February, with the shotgun’s crackle at 10am sharp marking the start of the race that Saturday morning. Hailing from South Africa, Rockstar Kommander Industries’ Shante Bukes was joined by Dustin Motzouris who relocated from his native country to Arizona last year.
Motzouris explained their plan, “We took a bone stock FX SVHO off the Kommander floor and raced exactly as you buy it, it is amazing how good the new Yamahas are even when it got rough and nasty. We had a fun crew at the race and we where competitive without being overly stressed and that’s the right way to approach this race as so many unforeseen events can happen over such a long distance.”
Bukes parroted her teammate, saying, “The 2015 Mark Hahn Memorial 300 race was definitely one to remember […] It was an awesome event. The weather got quite cold and windy but it didn’t stop us from racing. It’s the best way to get experience in that rough conditions. It was some close racing, having to swap with Dustin every 5 laps to refuel […] It was Definitely a hard endurance race but I loved every minute off it.”
Unlike previous years, the field of competitive craft was uniquely diverse, with SVHO-powered Yamahas being equal to or even greater than that of the rough water-friendly Kawasakis. Factory Yamaha was even represented by an unlikely duo, “Flyin Brian” Smith and JetPilot’s own Steve Goldberg.
Smith recounted, “This year I had the pleasure of teaming up with JetPilot’s Steve Goldberg and given the opportunity to race for Factory Yamaha. The race was very challenging for me this year and a bit more than […] years past, mainly because I haven’t been able to ride or practice on a runabout (or ride for that matter) since [an] injury I sustained at World Finals this past year.
He continued, “[…]After a few minor setbacks and my partner sustaining a shoulder injury, [I was left] to finish the race Ironman-style about halfway through.” Goldberg echoed, “[This] marked my first experience in PWC racing. After meeting Brian last year and helping him and his team pit in the standup class, I thought it would be a great opportunity to get involved and support those who support the brand and possibly race.”
“Overall the experience was epic,” Goldberg concluded. “Much respect to all the racers involved. Unfortunately, I suffered a shoulder injury that would sideline me at the halfway point but with the courageous ride by my partner, we were able to hold on to 5th in class.”
Those who chose to “ironman it” or compete solely are often revered as the challenge is exceptional, as both man and ski are put to the utmost test. Australian Christian D’Agostin did so on an Ultra 310X SE. He explained, “Man, what an awesome event! [With] 50-plus runabouts on the line – [it was] spectacular! I completely duffed the start, [but] got up in the Top 10 by Lap 2. [We] had an awesome pace, the team aced every fuel stop. At the last fuel stop we were first in Ironman, first in class and third outright – we where bringing it home and on Lap 26 we developed a misfire and couldn’t continue – we where guttered.”
Yet, it are those who dare to compete in both Standup Ski and Iron who stand above. One such, Brock Austin, did so. “The 2015 Mark Hahn 300 had its ups and downs but overall was good! I took first overall in Ironman on a Polaris Octane and scoring said ninth overall in Standup (I thought I was around fifth but I had some mechanical issues so scoring probably had a tough time keeping track of me). I ran out of gas trying to make it three laps but it was too rough, so I didn’t make it and when the ski ran out of gas it leaned out and put a hole in my pipe coupler, so we had to fix it three different times throughout the whole race. I still finished 14 laps even with all of the problems!”
For the Standup class overall, the win went to teammates Bibi Carmouche and Kody Copenhaver. Bibi recalled, “After seeing the weather forecast, I knew things would be much different then the flat water conditions from my first Hahn last season. [We] were excited to see what Mother Nature would bring us because being on a slower ski only meant that rough waters would help us. Kody started the race with a great start and was in third by the time the first lap was completed, from then on we just kept our pace and waited for the anticipated storm to come through.
“As the day went on conditions got more intense and fatigue in all teams started setting in, our pit crew was flawless in the pit stops and we weren’t giving up until the checkered flag,” Bibi continued. “Although it looked as if we were going to finish with a second place, our consistency and grit lead us to victory!”
Kody shadowed by telling The Watercraft Journal, “The race started out cold and cloudy as everyone predicted. On the start I holeshotted the Ski class to about the first boat until Aaron Gewecke passed me, and after second boat Brock Austin passed me. About half way through the race, it got super windy, with big waves and wind pushing us. That’s when our team start excelling. After moving into second in lap 15, on the far back section of the 10 mile loop, I made the pass for the lead. Bibi finished off the race with a good lead. After about six years of doing this race it finally paid off with the roughest conditions and a win.”
As mentioned earlier, Russians Riabko and Desmer suffered a terrible defeat at the loss of their race-leading boat. That opened up the field to teammates Jean-Bruno Pastorello and Jean-Baptiste Botti, both exceptional competitors in their own right, and Canada’s Mike Klippenstein. Other than a few laps when Riabko and Desmer’s #5 pitted, they led the first 25 laps. By the pit for the next-to-last stop, Pastorello and Klippenstein passed them for good.
Although Botti and Pastorello failed to pierce the Top 25 in the first lap, the duo went on to win by a couple of minutes over Klippenstein, proving that it’s not how fast one starts or how fast a lap can be run, but consistency in the pits and on the course.