Jamie Nilsen steers the GP-52 to a preliminary heat win on Saturday in the North American Championship. (Staff photo by David Campbell)
Jamie Nilsen steers the GP-52 to a preliminary heat win on Saturday in the North American Championship. (Staff photo by David Campbell)
Grand Prix World sent its boats out on the water twice on the opening race day of the North American Championship and a pair of familiar names each took home a heat win in race action on Saturday afternoon.

Heat 1A saw Jamie Nilsen in GP-55 run away from the field after his only challenger failed to finish the race early on. Nilsen and defending GPW national champion Ed Preston in the GP-20 Truss Co. were neck and neck during the heat’s first lap before Preston lost power and his boat went dead in the water.

Nilsen controlled the rest of the way and was never challenged. Kevin Eacret in the GP-18 Dan Cole Sells Cars/Ed’s Auto and Machine/Plan B Garage finished second and the GP-59 Baby Doll III driven by Mario Maraldo picked up third place.

“Our GP-55 boat ran great,” Nilsen said after the heat. “We got ourselves into a battle early in the race and were fortunate enough to stay out in front and get a win. We always love coming to Madison and its even better when you’re able to start this weekend off with a win.”

Heat 1B saw Guntersville GPW winner and former H1 driver Greg Hopp steer the GP-15 Happy Go Lucky/Kroger to its first win of the weekend. Hopp led wire-to-wire in the four-lap heat, staking his claim as a favorite to pick up his second-straight championship in two weeks.

“The Ohio River was really going after us and turn one was pretty soupy but I was able to get to the turn first and took it from there,” Hopp said. “We knew in testing that we were going to be challenged by navigating this water but the boat handled it well and we were able to get a win. I’m anxious to see what tomorrow holds out there.”

The GP-52 Wanna Bee Racing, driven by John Griggs Jr., picked up second place and Maraldo, running in his second heat of the day, ran to another third place finish. Griggs’ runner-up finish proved to be a rather impressive performance considering a major malfunction in the boat.

“This is the second time he has had this issue in Madison,” GPW chairman Sam Cole said. “He was going down the backstretch and he hit something or whatever, but the safety hatch that drivers use to get out of the boat came open and the cockpit started filling up with water. Rescue crews got him out and he walked out on his own power and into his truck.”

Griggs walked away bruised up and sore but suffered no significant injuries. It is unclear on if he and the GP-52 will race tomorrow.

“I haven’t heard anything on how much it will take to repair the boat,” Cole added. “The crew is looking over the boat but I can tell you this, if anybody can get a boat fixed and ready for tomorrow it is the Griggs family.”

The GPW series resumes heat action for its North American Championship tomorrow at 12:45 p.m. and 1:15 p.m.. The final heat is currently scheduled for 3 p.m.