GEICO and Alex And Ani ready for duel on the water

At one time, Serafino “Jimmy Cazzani” was on the top of the powerboat racing world.

In the late 1980s and early ’90s, his American Express was the boat to beat as he won 14 championships and set numerous speed records.

Now the throttleman and owner of Alex And Ani is fighting to get back to the mountaintop and will have the perfect chance to take a giant leap in that direction Sunday when he faces Miss GEICO in the Sarasota Grand Prix.

The race features the two biggest and fastest boats in the field. GEICO is the Babe Ruth of the powerboat racing world, but Alex And Ani is an up-and-comer. In two races against each other earlier this year GEICO won both.

“In our new boat we haven’t had any great success. We haven’t won any races as of yet, but we are going to do it. This is our fourth season and it is a fabulous boat,” Cazzani said. “I have never beaten them, but we had some good runs. We were well ahead of them in Point Pleasant earlier this year and had some safety equipment failures in the cockpit that set us back.”

The GEICO team of throttleman Scott Begovich and driver Mark Granet is just as motivated and determined to keep its lofty spot in the world of powerboat racing.

“I’ve been doing this for 20 years and this is one of the biggest offshore events that I’ve ever been in. It’s like our Indianapolis 500,” Begovich said. “There are no better fans, no more educated fans and no more dedicated fans than the ones in Sarasota and Alex And Ani is our big rival.”

GEICO missed out on last year’s Sarasota Grand Prix because of a scheduling conflict, but made sure it would be here this year, especially with another opportunity to take on Alex And Ani.

“We beat them in our two races this year, but that’s not to say it’s going to happen again,” Begovich said. “To their credit they started the last race with some problems and couldn’t go all out and so they were kind of handicapped. It’s calm water here so that should be a lot better for them. It should be a dogfight.”

This season, the Miss GEICO team is going for its ninth world title. Begovich and Granet have been together since the team’s inception in 2006. Cazzani says they are undoubtedly two of the best in the world at what they do, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be beaten.

“We are going after them. We want to kick their butt,” Cazzani said. “They have been riding high, but it’s only a matter of time until things change. We have a great boat, but we don’t have the test time we want due to our budget. Our boat ran really well earlier in the season. We made some changes in our last race that kind of set us on our heels, but we have recovered and expect a really great run on Sunday.”

Cazzani and Begovich are long time racers who started early in their lives and never lost their passion for the sport

“My dad was a dockmaster and I grew up in Point Pleasant (N.J.), which has some of the biggest races in the country. I got involved when I was about six or seven years old,” Begovich said. “I’ve been racing offshore powerboats since 2000 and been with the Miss GEICO team for 10 years. I do it for the adrenalin rush. I’ve always been a competitor. I am addicted to competition and expect to get a lot of it this weekend.”

Cazzani said he he has a psychological edge that might pay off this weekend or somewhere down the road in his chase to get the better of GEICO.

“The big thing is GEICO is under pressure to win and I am not,” Cazzani said “I am out here to have a good time, promote my sponsors and enjoy meeting the people. To me personally this is a storied event now in its 32nd year The important thing is to raise money for the kids and the charities. It’s a heartwarming experience and I am glad to be part of it. But we are here to win.”