SARASOTA -- The Suncoast Superboat Grand Prix draws crowds both locally and internationally. The weekend-long event kicked off Friday afternoon at Centennial Park in Sarasota with a showcase of the power boats, giving people the opportunity to become familiar with both the boat drivers and crews of the high-speed water crafts.
The boat races bring in spectators and drivers from all around the globe, including royalty. The prince of Qatar, Sheikh Hassan bin Jabor Al-Thani, arrived in Sarasota last week and will be racing his brand new "Spirit of Qatar" on Sunday.
Trevor Leigh, the crew chief for Hassan's racing team, said that Hassan has been racing since 2003. His last win was in the Class One race in Dubai last November. Leigh said that Hassan, who enjoys racing on the Suncoast, wants to bring the Suncoast racing festivities to Qatar.
"He would just ship everything and all the teams over," Leigh said. "He would bring in all of the top classes. But I'm not sure of the politics behind it."
While Hassan just arrived, some of his crew members have been here for the past 11 weeks, working in a luxury RV that is part hospitality, part workshop.
"We have been working 18-hour days getting the boat ready," Leigh said.
Hassan is not the only international racer. Mark Niemann from Germany had a racing career in Europe before moving to the Sarasota area three years ago.
At the helm of the "Phantom 9," Niemann won the Suncoast Super Boat Grand Prix last year, a well as a national boat racing title.
Neimann said that behind every win is hours of manual labor.
"For every race, there is 100 hours of manpower," Niemann said. "You have to make sure that from nose to end, everything is correct."
Steve Phillips, one of the crew members for the "Phantom 9," said that preparing boats for races comes down to fine details.
The boats have to be in top performing shape, as they will be ripping through the water at high speeds -- a little over 90 mph.
"You have to go through all the mechanical systems of the entire boat," Phillips said. "The engines have to be pulled out and gone through and put back together meticulously because of the stress they go through during the race."
Niemann said that despite his years of boat-racing experience in both Europe and Florida, the thrill never gets old.
"It is like driving an Indy car at night over a dirt road," Niemann said. "It feels twice as fast on the water. There are no shock absorbers or suspension, and the water turns to concrete."
Despite the rain, Niemann and his crew are excited about the race and expected a big turnout, as there are 45 boats racing this year.
Boston racer Cy Mugford thinks that his boat, the "2nd Amendment" will be the boat to beat at this year's race. The Massachusetts resident makes the trip to Florida every year to race his all-American themed craft.
"Everything about my boat is special," Mugford said. "It's condition, the speed records it has, just everything."
Mugford claims that the annual Sarasota race is his favorite show out of the eight races he does every year.
"I wouldn't miss Sarasota," Mugford said. "The people are great and it's just a great race to be a part of."
The super-boats have to be built to certain requirements to be able to race. They must be built with the same engines, weigh close to the same, and they must be between 28 and 32 feet in length.
"It keeps it competitive and keeps the races tight," Phillips said.
Trial races will run on Saturday, and the Grand Prix races are on Sunday. The first race is at 11 a.m. and the second race is at 1 p.m. on Lido Beach.