AquaX is the fastest growing personal watercraft championship in the world. Its rapid growth is owed to a simple, yet challenging race format that appeals to todays personal watercraft users.
This year the program will include the unveiling of a professional level race series and expansion of two further championships in the Great Lakes region of the USA and in Southeast Asia.
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Then, in 2010, following seven years of significant investment, Rangoonwala conceded that Powerboat P1’s business model was unsustainable even in the short term. What followed was a complete remodelling of the business, which grew out of a recognition that the racing product had to be built from the bottom up.
“Pre-2010 we called it ‘chequebook racing’,” reveals Azam Rangoonwala, who was just 30 when he took over the reins from his father as Powerboat P1 chief executive in 2018. “It was very much about an individual who had a lot of money and was able to fund their own team and compete within the sport.”
“What we did after 2010 was change the model to put greater emphasis on driver skill and turn it into a more commercial operation built around enjoyment of the sport and the competition, while also trying to attract younger participants. What we realised was that there’s a lot of grassroots work to do within the sport, and since 2010 we have really been focusing on that.
“People within the sport have also become more commercially savvy, and that’s really the focus – not just us becoming more commercially savvy, but also the riders and the participant teams that are working with us.”
To date, Powerboat P1 has staged more than 600 races in 18 countries across four continents. In the UK and the US - both markets the global rights holder now considers strongholds - Powerboat P1 has formed one-design, single-engine national racing series, including the flagship P1 Superstock Championships starring Panther race boats, which have become a mainstay of the organisation’s rejuvenation process.
Since 2011, P1 has served up a double bill of powerboat and jet ski racing. Rangoonwala says participation in its P1 AquaX jet ski series has gone from ‘between 15 to 20 riders’ in 2011 to now having over 500 participants globally. P1 entered the jet ski arena in the UK and then took its offshore race series to the US two years later in 2013 and now also races in a number of countries across Western Europe. It has just announced a World Championship event later this year in the Bahamas for the world’s leading professional riders and Rangoonwala points out that AquaX racing offers a quicker and cheaper route to market.
Recent strides have undoubtedly been made across the business, but the impression is that these are still only the building blocks being put in place. This year the previously open-top fleet of Panthers underwent a significant makeover which saw them fitted with a canopy that is not only designed to improve safety and performance, but which Rangoonwala believes has made the boats “look a bit more race-like” from a commercial standpoint.
“The concept before was it was half pleasure, half race - now it’s at full race mode,” he adds. “It’s got a new 300R Mercury Racing engine, which gives it more power. We’ve put power steering into the boats which they didn’t have before, and really it’s just more of a technical boat. It’s not so much a boat that you can just get into and drive - you require a certain amount of training.
“We’re really confident in the product and we believe that’s going to grow within itself over the next three to four years.”
Much of Rangoonwala’s time will now be focused on growing Powerboat P1’s presence outside its traditional hotbeds. 2019 brought with it the promoter’s biggest-ever international race calendar, with more than 20 powerboat and jet ski events from April through to November featuring events in the US, Western Europe and the UK.
Two years ago Powerboat P1 took its first steps into the Indian financial hub of Mumbai, which played host to the P1 SuperStock World Championship, benefitting from an unprecedented nine hours of live television coverage.
Logistically speaking, though, Rangoonwala is quick to point out that there are countless considerations to be made before “creating a stadium environment” along a stretch of beach. Some of the challenges range from ensuring that races take place close to the shore to create an immersive experience for spectators and viewers at home, to even implementing a marine mammal watch programme to keep tabs on the whereabouts of local wildlife such as turtles and manatees to ensure no harm is done to the animals.
“The environment is something we have to factor into what we do,” Rangoonwala asserts. “Being able to put a big racecourse out into an ocean is not an easy feat, and to operationally do that and to stick to time has definitely been an issue for us in the past which we’ve worked hard to resolve.
“A lot of places we go to, most people haven’t heard of the fact that they race jet skis or they even race these boats – they might have seen them in the past, but how does that all take place in a clean environment? So they assume that we don’t operate that way.
“It’s not like we’re going to a racetrack; we are building the racetrack in the water for a few days and then we’re taking it out of there, so that in itself has been a learning experience over the last ten years, but now it’s clockwork and we’ve definitely overcome that.”
Powerboat P1’s events, says Rangoonwala, are “very much a family spectacle” which attracts both casual and avid marine motorsport fans to a day at the beach. Event-goers are encouraged to tune into a Facebook live stream of races, which uses drones to follow the action so that fans do not miss anything when the boats fade out of view. Powerboat P1 also produces a post-event show that airs in more than 150 countries worldwide, including on CBS Sports in the US and pay-TV powerhouse Sky Sports in the UK.
“That international television coverage provides some great value for those host venues, and a lot of the initial conversations arise from that international television coverage that we do provide,” Rangoonwala discloses. “The local stimulus from the events that we put on has really started to increase as this series has grown. We have started working with promoters in venues, rather than just staging events in venues ourselves.”
Buying into Powerboat P1’s long-term goals is something that has already reaped benefits for some of its event hosts in Florida, where Cocoa Beach has seen attendances rise from 80,000 to around 150,000. Meanwhile St Pete Beach, which is located on the south eastern US state’s Gulf coast, not only features on the international race calendar, but as a partner and competing team in the SuperStock series has a wider scope to promote itself as a potential tourist destination.
Beyond one-off events, though, Rangoonwala has already set about identifying where he would like to take Powerboat P1’s repurposed brand of marine motorsport next. Speaking to SportsPro from the company’s US office in Orlando, he says he is not purely interested in destinations that want to stage a standalone international race, but would rather partner with tourism boards and locations that have the sport’s long-term interests at heart.
“We’ve been working with the Malaysians for the past four or five years, and there’s definitely a large opportunity there to take an entire series of both the P1 AquaX and the P1 SuperStock,” Rangoonwala says, adding that Powerboat P1 is also in discussion with Russia and Saudi Arabia.
“It’s very much a global reach,” he continues, “and we’re always open to talking to different international opportunities, but the key behind that whole aspect of becoming international is explaining to all of our partners that, yes, it’s all good to come on board and have an international event, but it’s also about building the grassroots and ensuring that there is a local series running – not just an international event.”
Clearly then, for what is ultimately a niche sport, there is already an international feel to an organisation with the objective of breaching its comfort zone and establishing a genuinely global racing platform.
At the start of this year Rangoonwala, an engineering graduate and former racer himself, embarked on a hugely significant partnership with OPA Racing to create the American Power Boat Association Offshore Championship. A key aim is to strengthen the future of racing in the US by delivering an expanded, cohesive, world-class race series running from May to October and split equally between northern and southern states.
The six championship venues feature major, high-profile events in Florida, Missouri, Michigan and Indiana with an international field of race teams that includes the Victory Team from Dubai, 222 Offshore from Australia and iconic American boats such as Miss GEICO. These famous teams compete in Class One, the premier race class in this new offshore series as well as globally within the sport of powerboat racing.
The promoter also boasts successful partnerships with marine manufacturers such as Yamaha, Kawasaki and Mercury Racing. Bringing on board consumer brands as sponsors, though, is a challenge Rangoonwala is keen to address sooner rather than later. With that he believes Powerboat P1 can start to seriously consider setting up its first truly global series.
“In terms of the manufacturers, this is a viable commercial opportunity for the industry itself,” Rangoonwala begins. “In the marine industry, essentially you have a boat show, you have the boating industry magazines, but there really aren’t many other avenues for them to promote themselves, and we’re the avenue for that.
“I mentioned our challenge in terms of getting a national partner, national sponsors, working with national brands. We’ve overcome that, but the next step is getting into that global level, where we can bring in a true global entity which brings together the whole series, and that’s where it stems into having a global series, and really that next step over the next few years is to build that.
“We’ve got the international flavour and the global market playing into our hands – we need those other countries to come in. We’re literally at the tipping point where bringing one or two of those on board will really cause us to take it to the next level, to expand our team and provide the end goal.”
In terms of what that end goal might be, Rangoonwala does little to mask the scale of his ambition.
“Global domination,” he laughs, adding, “in the sense that we want to be a global platform. I think our challenge is how to cross borders between the UK and the US. Really it’s stepping into the other markets and creating a stronghold there – we don’t want to just go to another market, have a single market and come back. We want to create a stronghold there and create some consistency, and then that’s going to take us to the global level.
“What’s happening in the sport right now is that we’ve got a lot of people coming together because of the commercial mindset we have for the business, and it’s giving us a chance to exploit what we’ve been building on over the previous years of putting it out there.”
Powerboat P1’s fleet of Panthers were fitted with canopies ahead of the 2019 season POWERBOAT P1
Powerboat P1 recently revealed that it will be heading to the Bahamas in November for the P1 AquaX World Championship 2019.
Atlantis Paradise Island will be the host hotel for the three-day event, marking the climax of the 14-event international P1 AquaX season, which features established race series in the US, mainland Europe and the UK, with riders from up to 20 countries.
Taking place from 8th to 10th November, the event will see AquaX make its first visit to the Bahamas, where fans will be entertained by the world’s top 40 watercraft riders, whose qualification will be determined throughout the season.
Commenting at the launch event, Lisa Barsby, global head of P1 AquaX and a former world champion rider, said: “In addition to qualifying through performances in national and continental race series, the position of riders in the Lucas Oil P1 AquaX World Rankings, which identifies the most successful racers in the world, will secure a trip to the Bahamas along with a limited number of wildcard entries.
“The result will be an elite field of the world’s very best pwc riders. Atlantis Paradise Island will provide a stunning setting for the World Championship event and we are delighted to be partnering with one of the most amazing resorts in the world and with the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism and Aviation.”
Atlantis, which was launched 20 years ago, is renowned for its commitment to the environment and marine life conservation. It is home to the largest open-air marine habitat in the world with over 50,000 marine animals from 250 species in the ocean fed environments.
Barsby continued: “This will be only the second world championship we have staged – the first being in Key West in December 2017 – and it will feature both Pro sprint and Pro endurance races. Partnerships are at the heart of our business and outstanding locations and host venues contribute enormously to our event offering. Ending our race season at Atlantis Paradise Island will be a wonderful experience
Atlantis Paradise Island will be the host hotel for the P1 AquaX World Championship 2019 in the Bahamas
Featuring the world’s top 40 watercraft riders, the World Championship marks the climax of the 14-event P1 AquaX seasonand we will be hoping to race there for many years to come.”
The World Championship event will crown another successful year for Powerboat P1, building on the inaugural American Power Boat Association Offshore Championship.