Whanganui's Ross Travers is hoping his runnerup placing for Group A boats at the UIM World Series will stand him in good stead for a crack at the national title when the 2018-19 season gets underway in less than two weeks.
Local jetsprint fans have a lot to be excited for with the news that the once again Whanganui will be a hub for the season as Upokongaro's Shelterview Park will host two of the six rounds – the traditional December 27 day event as part of Speedweek, and after a two seasons absence, the return of the iconic 'night round' on March 30.
After last season's early start on November 4, 2017, with three rounds originally scheduled before the New Year, one of which was canned by dry weather, the dates have again been pushed back to the December start.
This is followed by a break in January and then a February round at Meremere, two in March in Hastings and Whanganui, and then the season finale in Wanaka in April.
In the World Series, Travers finished second overall by four points to Hamilton's two-time national champion Ollie Silverton, while Australian Daniel James was third.
Backed by Stevo's Distributors and Lincoln Sports & Social Club to make the expensive trip, with the Radioactive boat only just returned recently, Travers came second at the opening round behind Silverton, and then got a "get out of jail free card" at the second round.
In the Top 16 eliminator race, Travers mistimed a turn and flew straight across two islands, thankfully landing back in the water instead of beaching, and was able to figure out where he needed to be to get back on the proper course rotation.
"That was a bit of a mind explosion – there was nine islands, there was 40 turns to remember," he said.
Fortunately, Travers still got through to the Top 12 because two other boats couldn't come back out because of engine problems, while another driver's engine clapped out on him during the run and a fourth got lost and couldn't get back on rotation.
The Whanganui driver recovered to finish fourth on the day, with Silverton winning again to claim the title.
Nonetheless, Travers thinks he can translate World Series success to the national title.
"Hopefully, we're rapt with what we did out at the worlds.
"It's all set to go, I haven't done anything to it for two weeks. [Builder] Ian Coleman will check it out next week."
Modifications like a new cam shaft and computer technology introduced in April have helped, especially the computer read-outs as in Australia the Radioactive team were able to diagnose fuel pressure problems and swiftly correct them.
This will help during the season as Radioactive will be in a double drive between father and son.
Shane Travers, who has been his dad's navigator for the past few seasons, winning 1NZ for navigators in Group B and 2NZ for Group A last year, will now also get to drive the boat.
His navigator will be partner Hannah Berry, while Ross Travers will have experienced navigator Amanda Kittow, who also works with Rotorua's Superboat driver Nick Berryman.
"They'll be trouble if he beats me," said Ross Travers of his son.
The other big news is that the unlimited power Superboats division title is now wide open after the retirement of the sport's godfather Peter Caughey.
Christchurch's seven time world champion and 12 time national champion finished his glittering career at the UIM World Series in Australia, where he came second overall to Aussie Phonsy Mullan.
Caughey won the first round near Adelaide on October 27-28, but in the second round near Brisbane five days later, the steering wheel came off in the Cantabrian's hand and caused him to crash out.
Whanganui's own Rob Coley, who finished third in last season's national series and was runnerup the year before, had his own mechanical issues in Australia with blown head gaskets, coming 16th amongst the 22 boats from New Zealand, Australia and the United States.
Shelterview co-owner Julia Murray, wife of driver Richard, said Caughey will now confine himself to supporting his jetsprint teams.
"There's a whole lot of superboat drivers who'll be happy," she added.
It is anybody's championship now without the consistently strong Christchurch driver and boat builder.
Berryman finished second at the nationals and third at the World Series behind Caughey, while Hamilton's former world champion Glen Head is back after he needed time off in January for surgery.
Coley, as always, will be a contender, while Julia Murray said her husband tested the Ford-engine powered boat recently and it is sounding good.
"He's re-done all the electrics, because it was snuffing out on him last season, by the second or third run."
Richard Murray, a former Group A national champion, finished fourth in the Superboats last season.
In another local connection, Palmerston North's Richard Burt will again by driving the quad rotary turbo for Whanganui's Team Huijs Racing.
Former Group B national champion Hayden Wilson made his comeback to the sport after a break last season, finishing fourth overall behind Te Awamutu's two-time champion Paddy Haden, Taranaki's Daniel Reade and Whanganui expat Kelli Minnell.
Wilson will hope to improve on that effort, especially with two local rounds making the home teams a more attractive prospect for sponsorship.
In total, around 42 boat crews will be attempting the whole season across the three divisions.
Round 1: Whanganui, December 27
Round 2: Meremere, February 16
Round 3: Hastings, March 3
Round 4: Whanganui, March 30 (night round)
Round 5: Wanaka, April 20