SARASOTA -- Crowds gathered in Centennial Park as they ate, drank, listened but more importantly watched cranes lower powerboats into the water.
Along Lido Beach, more crowds lined the shore to watch the powerboats make their practice runs along a 4.5-mile loop in the water.
For the powerboat teams, traveling along the Gulf waters at over 150 mph, it's one of the highlights of the year.
Saturday's practice runs prepared the 40 powerboats that will be competing in the 30th annual Suncoast Super Boat Grand Prix Boat Race on Sunday. For the crowds, it gave them a first look at this year's competition.
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For Miss GEICO world champion driver Marc Granet and throttleman Scott Begovich, this year comes with the hope of winning another world title.
Two years ago, the team suffered a catastrophic loss when their former boat, the Miss GEICO Mystic Catamaran, suffered electrical issues and caught on fire aboard during a practice run before the races.
On Saturday, the duo was hopeful following their first practice run in preparation for their go at an eighth world championship.
"I think what the fans will see (Sunday) is going to be absolute warfare out there," Granet said. "It will
be a spectacle to see." It felt great to be out on the water, he added.
"We have a lot of history here, so getting out on these Sarasota waters is fantastic," Granet said. "For 20 years, I lived in St. Pete Beach, and nothing has changed."
The Miss GEICO Victory Catamaran will be competing against two other boats in the unlimited class. The coarse was shortened to allow spectators to watch all the turns, Granet said. It won't allow for max speeds, but spectators can still expect to see reach more than 150 mph.
On Saturday, Granet was happy to see so many spectators lined up to watch them practice.
Begovich was also smiles as they completed their first practice run. He was grateful for a break, however, with temperatures in the cockpit reaching about 130 degrees when they are racing.
"So after being in there, this feels like 70 degrees," Begovich said.
During an hour-long race, the duo just deals with the heat, they said.
"That hour is intense, so much adrenaline and testosterone," Granet said.
Sunday's race will be the grand finale of nine days' worth of events, all to benefit Sunocast Charities for Children in building facilities and funding programs for children with special needs from Sarasota down to the North Port area. There are two races Sunday, one beginning at 11 a.m. and one at 1 p.m.
As the boats race, the support boats carrying rescue crews will be nearby. Safety coordinator David DiPetrillo sits suited up and with all his emergency gear and, in the event of an emergency, he is prepared to dive in.
"It doesn't matter if we are practicing," DiPetrillo said. "We always tell these guys you can't concentrate on the race if you are worried about your safety"
Jessica De Leon, Herald law enforcement reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7049. You can follow her on Twitter @JDeLeon1012.