CHASING CUPS: Jean Theoret and the Miss Beacon Plumbing — the most recent Gold Cup winner among active boats — will be vying for his second Cup in the last three years. Theoret, shown at Madison last weekend, won the Gold Cup in 2006. The 100th running of the Gold Cup will be held this weekend on the Detroit River. For a complete list of past Gold Cup winners, see Page A8. (Staff photo by Mark Campbell)
CHASING CUPS: Jean Theoret and the Miss Beacon Plumbing — the most recent Gold Cup winner among active boats — will be vying for his second Cup in the last three years. Theoret, shown at Madison last weekend, won the Gold Cup in 2006. The 100th running of the Gold Cup will be held this weekend on the Detroit River. For a complete list of past Gold Cup winners, see Page A8. (Staff photo by Mark Campbell)
The closest field in Unlimited hydroplane history converges on Detroit this weekend with not only the coveted APBA Gold Cup up for grabs, but crucial national points as the season enters the halfway point.

Two races have produced two different winners thus far in the ABRA season with Jean Theoret winning at Evansville in the U-37 Miss Beacon Plumbing and Jeff Bernard claiming victory last week at Madison aboard the U-5 Formulaboats.com.

But Steve David and the U-6 Oh Boy! Oberto has the national points lead and has posted the fastest qualifying times at each race.

That parity has given nearly every team in the field confidence that they can pull out a win.

"The competition has never been this close," said Theoret, winner of the 2006 Gold Cup race on the Detroit River. "This is like Formula One racing where each team is just seconds apart. But they race on a flat (asphalt) course that never changes and we race on a course where the water moves the surface each and every lap.

"So for us, to be just seconds apart is amazing."

The Gold Cup is the shining jewel of each race season and there isn't a driver or team that doesn't dream of hoisting the Cup. Theoret is the only driver in the field that has won the Golf Cup, but five different teams have wins to their credit.

The Gold Cup takes on an added importance this year with only 80 points separating the Oh Boy! Oberto from the Formulaboats.com in the standings. Theoret's Miss Beacon Plumbing is third, 365 points back while the Formulaboats.com II has 577 points.

This weekend's race is the last before Dave Villwock and the U-1 Miss Elam Plus join the fleet in two weeks at Tri-Cities and begin defending their 2007 national championship. That team, which has won two of the last three national titles, opted out of the eastern races this season to focus on a series of exhibition events in the Middle East this winter.

With only three races left on the schedule after this weekend, every point is crucial. And the Gold Cup, with its extra set of preliminary heats, offers 400 more points than any other event.

But it is that extra heat, along with the unforgiving Detroit River, that make the Gold Cup special. Winning the crown is not just an act of skill, it's a statement on survival.

"One thing that makes the Gold Cup special is that you have to race more miles than any other race," said Bernard, who grew up in Detroit and whose step-father, Terry Troxell, won the Gold Cup there in 2005. "That makes it tougher on the driver and the equipment."

Theoret, who has won six times at the Unlimited level and 43 more times in Grand Prix boats, considers the Gold Cup win as the highlight of his career.

"Winning the Gold Cup was the biggest moment of my boat racing career," said Theoret. "It was truly a special moment for me and I just wish every driver could have that same feeling I had when I won the Gold Cup."

Only nine boats are expected to hit the water when testing begins Friday and even that number might be pushing it. The U-100 Mirageboats.com driven by Greg Hopp has already pulled out due to hull damage suffered in the final heat at Madison. The U-25 Miss Jarvis Fire-Water Repair, owned and driven by Ken Muscatel, is also a possible no-show after damage occurred to the transom during testing at Madison on Saturday afternoon.

One boat that will race is the Graham Trucking driven by J. Michael Kelly. The Detroit-owned U-13 - the team for which Troxell drove to that 2005 Gold Cup win - suffered damage at Evansville and skipped Madison in order to be ready for this weekend.

The unlimited hydroplanes will run one set of three-lap elimination heats on Saturday with two sets of elimination heats and a winner-take-all final on Sunday. All Sunday heats will be five laps on the 2.5 mile Detroit River course. Qualifying and testing begins at 8 a.m. Friday.