St. Pete’s come a long way since the days of inboard hydroplane racing on Lake Maggiore. A new era of high-velocity watersports begins Saturday at the St. Pete Pier, with the inaugural Powerboat P1 Grand Prix.
Part of the eight-venue American Power Boat Association (APBA) national championship, the two-day event features both professional and amateur P1 AquaX powerboat and jet-ski racing.
It’s free to spectators. The event schedule is here.
The pits for the race boats will be at Vinoy Park, with the AquaX jet-ski pits at Spa Beach, and will be open to the public from 5-10 p.m. Friday and between 5 and 8 p.m. Saturday.
Vendors and live music will be set up at Vinoy Park starting at 5 p.m. Friday.
Powerboat P1 has held races offshore at Sarasota, Fort Myers, St. Pete Beach and other coastal cities, but this is the first time the promoter has brought a racing event into Tampa Bay.
“It’s going to be approximately a six-mile course for the powerboats,” said Tim Ramsberger, CFO of Visit St. Pete/Clearwater. “And of course the jet-skis, those things are 350 horsepower – they’ll go 75 miles an hour. They’re wicked cool. And they race on about a 1.6 mile course.”
Although motorized boat racing by the pier goes back to the 1930s, there haven’t been any contemporary powerboat events at the site for around 20 years. According to Ramsberger, “P1 were interested in talking about racing years ago, but with the pier going under renovations, and then the pandemic, it just wasn’t possible.”
This weekend’s races will be broadcast by CBS Sports and by Bally Sports Regional Networks, and will be seen in more than 100 countries.
Although he declined to predict how many visitors the races will bring to St. Petersburg, Ramsberger believes the event will be “iconic,” and its effect on the local economy something o a no-brainer.
“It’s going to bring a lot of economic impact to the pier vendors, which is important, and to make sure all the restaurants and bars are filled up,” he said. “It’s an excuse to come out and watch something pretty cool and unique.”