We got the chance to catch up with Robert Wicks, the Chief Operating Officer of Powerboat P1, to find out about the upcoming Grand Prix of the Sea to be staged in Bournemouth supported by the Coastal BID.
Firstly (to those of you who might be wondering) let’s clarify the wild-watersports world of ‘P1 Racing’: As arguably the fastest growing marine motorsport series in the world, you can’t (or soon won’t be able to) deny the waves that this sport is making, and it’s not just here in the UK either – the company runs an identical series in the USA and has just opened offices in Malaysia to launch the brand in Asia.
Don’t be fooled, whilst there are similarities between F1 and P1, there are also some fundamental differences. Take the opulence of F1 for example: whilst P1 racing certainly has a certain amount of highlife bravado, it’s actually far more accessible and far more affordable.
Ok, let’s cover the ‘elephant in the room’ too, that being that the biggest difference of all, is of course, the fact that it is racing on water, not asphalt. I can only imagine the thrill: the rushing water, the wind, a pounding surge of adrenalin – very daring, very 007. The drama intensifies with the course constantly changing beneath you and the racing conditions never being the same as the last race.
The media coverage for these events is constantly growing, with P1 now maintaining a regular spot on both Sky and the ‘Motors TV’ channel on Freeview. It’s lights, camera, and plenty of heart-pumping action for these guys and girls. Speaking of which, onwards to the interview:
So Rob, how did you get into P1 Racing?
I have always been involved in the commercial side of sport and joined P1 from the world of motorcycle racing. This was an exciting opportunity to get involved in something new, so I took it. It was always going to be an interesting challenge, but I knew it would be a great one and I’ve been working in this industry for eight years now.
How fast do these boats really go?
They can reach up to 70 miles per hour which might not seem like a lot, but on water, that’s pretty quick. With the constantly changing conditions of the water, no two laps are ever the same, plus there is close proximity to other racers to deal with that makes for an exhilarating challenge.
As chief operating officer, what does your role entail?
When we’re out on an event, I guess my tasks fall more under the role of an ‘Event Director’; I oversee the wider event and work closely with the Race Management team to ensure everything is on schedule. Back at the office, there is a broad mix of operational, commercial and media related activities as we grow and expand the business.
Could you describe the feeling of racing to those who have probably never ridden in a P1 race boat?
Sure! It’s a bit like being in a washing machine, with the spray coming up from all different angles. You have to work with whatever the weather conditions are on the day of the event, whilst listening to radio communications from both your team mate and the race management team – all of this from the confines of the race cockpit and wearing a race suit, helmet and lifejacket. It’s definitely challenging, but an incredible rush!
What’s most exciting about P1 racing?
As this is one-design racing, the boats are pretty much identical – same design, same weight, same propeller and same horsepower so this really makes the racing exciting as it tends to be fought at close quarters. We also run a ‘Pit Lap’ during the races which sees each team having to take an extended lap at a time of their choosing, with the objective being to return to the race course in clean water. It adds a strategic element to the racing – though it can make life a little tricky for the commentary team!
How are you preparing for the up-coming race weekend in Bournemouth?
We are pretty much all set. This is the third year in a row that the racing takes place in Bournemouth and it’s a great location to bring the season to a close. The P1 circus will be rolling into town on Thursday 1 September. The the teams all arrive on Friday and racing takes place over the weekend, with our champions crowned on the podium on Sunday afternoon.
It’s going to be a really exciting event, so I hope many of your readers can come down. It’s totally free to come and watch. Of course if you were interested in VIP or hospitality packages, then we encourage people to get in touch before everything is sold out.
What has been the high point of your P1 career so far?
There have been a lot of great experiences but our recent event in Scotland is right up there. Powerboat racing is often maligned as a niche sport and for not being spectator friendly, but P1 turned that idea on its head and showed the sport’s true potential to attract fans by engaging a crowd of more than 30,000 on the River Clyde at the inaugural P1 Scottish Grand Prix of the Sea, the biggest crowd the sport has seen at an event in more than 20 years.
Importantly, the event managed to make a huge difference to the local economy, contributing some £2.5 million in economic benefits. The Clyde has a long history of shipbuilding that has since been forgotten, so it was nice to rekindle some of that history and give the local community the chance to celebrate their heritage.
What is your ultimate goal?
For us as a company, we have exciting expansion plans both in terms of new territories and new classes. We’re not far away from launching our race series in Malaysia, we’re expanding our US race series into new states and this year the UK series raced in Scotland for the first time, so we are certainly starting to spread our wings. In terms of race classes, we’re launching a new one-design RIB racing series in 2017 and we’re also expanding our personal watercraft racing with the acquisition of the JetCross World Tour in Europe.
In terms of the sport itself, I hope we can continue to make it even more accessible and affordable for new participants. We also hope to get the sport’s governing body, the UIM, to be more actively involved too – helping to create new funding opportunities to ensure that the cost are kept under control, youngsters are encouraged to get involved and that high standards of safety and technical development are maintained.
Contact Powerboat P1 for more information: