H2O Racing
Union Internationale Motonautique


April 11, 2024


Thursday, April 11:  Scott Gillman is a man who knows a fair bit about the F1H2O racing scene. From just 92 race starts, the American claimed 55 podium finishes, 23 race wins and four world titles. He was inducted into the UIM’s Hall of Fame in 2010 and finished on the podium in 55 of the 59 events he started.


After a long and illustrious career as a racer, Gillman has been paving the way for others to follow in team management and the Sharjah Team is currently on the crest of a wave with rookie Rusty Wyatt - Gillman’s surprise pick to be the team’s lead driver this season – holding second in the UIM F1H2O Drivers’ Championship after two rounds.


Back in the day, Gillman’s duels with Italian rival Guido Cappellini were the highlight and will be remembered in F1H2O folklore for years to come with the American and the Italian winning 14 world titles between them in a dominant period in the sport.


Like Cappellini, Gillman switched to team management, initially with great success at Team Abu Dhabi with the likes of Thani Al-Qamzi, and Ahmed Al-Hameli and then with Mad Croc Gillman Racing and the Sharjah Team. His great rival had the upper hand in recent years with Cappellini taking over at Team Abu Dhabi and dominating the sport and winning a clean sweep of all the titles as recently as 2022.


But times and fortunes change quickly in powerboat racing, both for drivers and team managers, and Gillman has got the upper hand on his rival this season after the opening two races. The Sharjah Team holds second in the UIM F1H2O Teams’ Championship and Wyatt has made a sensational start to his F1H2O racing career with a first and a fourth place in the Grand Prix and two second places in the Sprint races in Indonesia and Vietnam.


Gillman last raced in F1H2O back in 2012 although a last serious challenge came in 2007, the year after he’d narrowly beaten Cappellini to secure his fourth World Championship title to add to the three successes with Team Abu Dhabi in 1997, 2000 and 2004.


In his final full year, Scott won in Portugal, finished second in La Rochelle and then retired in Xi’an, China, while leading the championship and the race when he withdrew with health issues under a yellow flag. He didn’t race again that year and Finland’s Sami Selio went on to win the first of his two world titles. Ill health kept Gillman away from the hot seat for four years until he made a one-off appearance in Kazan in 2011, finishing fourth, and then entered the last two races in the UAE in 2012.


Gillman initially concentrated in racing Stateside. In his very first full season in F1H2O, in 1997, the then three-time American F1 Powerboat Champion was an unknown quantity to the seasoned regulars. But he exploded on to the scene in emphatic style in his Seebold hull after a retirement at the first race of the season in Hungary.


As F1H2O’s long-time lead commentator and guru Stephen Michael recalls: “Guido had won eight of the nine races in 1996. He only lost at his home Grand Prix with a mechanical and my co-commentator Jonathan Jones won that race. Then Scott turned up with Troy Wood – an Aussie who worked for the Seebold family for many years – and their small motorhome that they lived in that he had bought and had shipped from Jacksonville, Florida. The two of them sat by themselves on a small hill along the Danube River in Hungary with no-one knowing who they were. I did because Scott had won two straight North American championships in 1995 and 1996 and joined Rainbow Racing and one-time World Champion Fabrizio Bocca. Scott was leading Jonathan Jones and pulling away when Swedish driver Thomas Ericsson cut him off in the corner and crashed him out a few laps into the race…..”


Undeterred, a run of four straight victories followed in St. Petersburg, Chalon-sur-Saône, Corfù and Gallipoli and three further podium finishes in Moscow, Italy and Xiamen were followed by victory in Abu Dhabi and the American amassed a stunning 142 points to beat Finland’s Pertti Leppala to the world title by 34 points. One of the most amazing finishes in the sport’s 40-year history came in Gallipoli when Gillman was trailing Cappellini by 18 seconds, but the Italian was obstructed by Leppala just long enough for Gillman to storm out of the final turn to win by a boat length in thrilling fashion.


Gillman said: “I won the title in my rookie season racing the same Seebold hull that I had raced the previous three years in America. It was a fun year. We took pole at that very first race in Hungary. I went on after that event to win four straight Grand Prix and won my first world title in Abu Dhabi. It was double special to have both my late father and my late mother with me for that season’s finale race.”


He followed up his maiden world title with fourth and third in the championship in 1998 and 1999 but the turn of the century brought a change in fortunes for the then resident of Glenwood Springs and he became embroiled in one of the most exciting duels in the history of the sport with Cappellini.


Just three points separated the pair after a 13-race calendar that saw Gillman win just one race in Riga. Three retirements threatened to unravel his title challenge but Cappellini had a topsy-turvy season that featured six victories, a second place and six Grand Prix where he either retired or didn’t start.


Cappellini dominated the sport for the next three seasons, with Gillman finishing as runner-up by 10 points in 2003 after winning races in Kuala Lumpur, Singapore and Sharjah. The American had to wait four years to secure his third world title. In 2004, Cappellini suffered a sequence of retirements in a season which included an ill-fated trip to Seoul. Gillman was the class of the field after retiring from the opening race in Mumbai. He went on to secure wins in Saudi Arabia, Portugal, Italy, China, Singapore and Sharjah on the way to winning the championship by a stunning 49 points from Francesco Cantando.


After finishing fifth in 2005, the fourth world title came in a shortened season, courtesy of a win in Chongzhou, second places in Qatar, Portugal and Abu Dhabi and four vital points in Sharjah on an event where Cappellini retired and Gillman won the title by four points.


“Guido was always my big rival,” adds Gillman. “For a 10-year stretch it was either Guido winning the title or yours truly. I’ll always be proud of the fact that 90% of my finishes were on the podium, which is a record no-one else has. Guido and I have ended up racing against each other for over 20 years. Our history goes back to the late 1980s when he and I would line up side-by-side on the start pontoon in America fighting for a lowly 10th place finish and earning a few points, while learning the sport. At many races that we competed in, we didn’t even take the time to speak or even look at each other. Sometimes we would push each other to the limit, our boats to the maximum, including practice, to see who could get the faster time even though it didn’t count for the race. That’s how competitive we were.”


The Californian began his racing career at the age of 15 in motocross and earned a ride with Team Suzuki. In 1981, he moved to off-road racing and closed-course racing, winning three successive championships. His switch to powerboat racing was equally successful and the three North American titles came in 1990, 1995 and 1996.


Born in Newport Beach, California, Gillman turns 65 later this month. Now the switch to team management is continuing to pay dividends: with Gillman at the helm, Wyatt, Filip Roms and the Sharjah Team will be chasing glory in Sardinia at the next round in mid-June. But his old adversary, Cappellini, has a point to prove and is sure to be preparing to steal the glory from his fellow ‘Hall of Fame’ member as another thrilling season of F1H2O racing unfolds.