Dave Villwock and the Spirit of Qatar (left) and Steve David and the Oh Boy! Oberto have combined to win 23 of the last 29 Air National Guard  H1 Unlimited Hydroplane Series races including the last three Governor’s Cups and 11 of the last 15 Madison Regattas. (Courier file photo)
Dave Villwock and the Spirit of Qatar (left) and Steve David and the Oh Boy! Oberto have combined to win 23 of the last 29 Air National Guard H1 Unlimited Hydroplane Series races including the last three Governor’s Cups and 11 of the last 15 Madison Regattas. (Courier file photo)
A longer course and record heat will greet the H1 Unlimited fleet when the 2012 Air National Guard Unlimited Hydroplane Series kicks off Friday in Madison for the 62nd Lucas Oil Indiana Governor's Cup.

After one year of racing on a tiny mile and two-thirds course, Madison Regatta Inc. has decided to expand the "Wild" Bill Cantrell Memorial Race Course to two miles this season.

The change has been dictated by the Regatta's new insurance carrier. While opinions are mixed on whether the smaller course caused the collision between the Spirit of Qatar and the Oh Boy! Oberto/Miss Madison in the final heat last year, the fact remains the course will be bigger this year.

"I have a certified two-mile course in my possession," Regatta President Herb Parker said. "It will 100 percent be a two-mile course."

Regardless of the length of the course, this year's 62nd running of the Indiana Governor's Cup promises to be as hot as the 100-degree temperatures that are forecast for the weekend.

Steve David and the hometown U-6 Oh Boy! Oberto won the Cup for the second-straight year despite the violent accident that left the boat in pieces. H1 Unlimited Chief Referee Mike Noonan ruled that Dave Villwock and the U-1 Spirit of Qatar were actually to blame for the crash, caused when Villwock hooked his boat in front of the oncoming Oberto, and awarded the win to the Miss Madison team.

The accident didn't stop Villwock from winning the following week at Detroit to pass Bill Muncey on the all-time wins list and the Ballard, Wash.-based Qatar team ended up claiming its third National High Points Championship, but first since 2007.

While the accident essentially knocked the Oberto team out of championship contention after a three-year reign, David said that it only made his group more hungry to return to the top.

"We are the LeBron James of hydroplane racing," said Miami resident David, invoking the name of the leader of the recent NBA championship Heat. "We want that championship and we're going to do whatever we need to do to win it. There is a real desire to get that championship back."

This year marks the 12th year that David will drive the Oh Boy! Oberto while Villwock is in his eighth year at the helm of the Ellstrom-owned Spirit of Qatar. While the top two teams can point to stability as one of the reasons for their success, the same cannot be said for the rest of the top contenders.

Other than driver Kip Brown and the U-17 Miss Red Dot, the other top contenders all come into the season with question marks. The 88 Degree Men team is returning to the circuit for the first time in four years while the 37 Miss Beacon Plumbing - which ran under the Degree banner last year - has a new sponsor and driver in J. Michael Kelly.

The U-5 Graham Trucking has a new driver in Jimmy Shane and essentially a new team after owner Ted Porter reconfigured his operation, dropping driver Jeff Bernard and losing driver Scott Liddycoat to the Degree Men.

Despite those changes, David thinks the door is wide open for any of the top contenders to pull out a win.

"I think this is truly going to be one of the tightest fields in recent memory," David said. "The 17 guys have really improved and the (Graham Trucking) is a fast boat. And the 88 is going to be right there. This is going to be the most competitive year we've had in a long time."

Of course, win by anyone not named "David" have been a rarity and that could be the case in the near future. Since the 2007 season, when the Oh Boy! Oberto debuted its new boat, Dave Villwock and Steve David have combined to win 23 of the last 29 races. When Scott Liddycoat picked up the win at Doha in last year's finale, it ended a streak of 11-straight wins by the pair.

Villwock's 65 wins are the most all-time while David sits in 10th place with 14 wins, tied with Cantrell - the Madison course's namesake - and Danny Foster. Mark Evans, driver and owner of the U-57 Formulaboats.com, has 10 career wins.

Only three other drivers in the current fleet have a win at the Unlimited level with Liddycoat, Kelly and Miss Peters & May driver J.W. Myers with one each. Villwock has won at Madison a record eight times, David has three wins here on the Ohio River and Evans and Myers have one win each.

The complete list of entrants includes: Dave Villwock, U-1 Spirit of Qatar; Jimmy Shane, U-5 Graham Trucking; Steve David, U-6 Oh Boy! Oberto/Miss Madison; Jon Zimmerman, U-9 Miss Bellow's Pizza; J.W. Myers, U-11 Miss Peters & May; Cal Phipps, U-13 Tubby's Grilled Subs; Kip Brown, U-17 Miss Red Dot; Mike Webster, U-22 Matrix Systems; J. Michael Kelly, 37 Miss Beacon Plumbing; N. Mark Evans, U-57 Formulaboats.com; Scott Liddycoat, 88 Degree Men; and Greg Hopp, U-100 Leland Unlimited.

In addition to the 12 Unlimiteds, 10 vintage hydroplanes will also be on hand to put on an exhibition. Those boats are: Dave Johnson, F-128 Miss Jean; Billy Cousins, H-69; Dave Richardson, GP-200 Lauterbach Special; Roger LaPierre, GP-1001 Dinomytes; Bill Fisk, GP-317 Irishman; John and Scott Kirschner, H-266 Miss Supersonic II; Gary Vore, H-202 Heavy Duty; Gordon Jayne, J-12 Chesapeake Lady; Tim Settles, F-77 Barracuda; Hal LeDuc, F-222 Opechee.

Testing and qualifying for the Indiana Governor's Cup begins on Friday with the first set of heats set for Saturday afternoon. All other racing will be Sunday with the winner-take-all Governor's Cup final set for a 4:20 start.