By: Denis Bourbonnais
As early as his 2nd season in the Hydroplane Racing League, in 2016, Philippe Billette showed he could compete with the best drivers on the powerboating circuit.
The Valleyfield-born driver racked up victories in the 2.5-litre class aboard the “Airspeed” S-7 and was in the heat of the championship race. Claude Abbott and him were neck-and-neck, with the same exact number of points, when both racing teams met up at the Bourcier Park in Beauharnois for the decisive event of the 2016 season.
We had to wait on the very last start of the campaign for a winner to be decided, as Philippe Billette had a slim lead of 3 points when the boats left the pits for the final heat. Pressure was on and as the last countdown came to an end, Philippe jumped the start of the race that saw Claude Abbott taking home the title in a dramatic fashion behind the wheel of the “Abbott Racing” S-67.
Promoted to Formula 2500 because of his 2nd place in the overall championship rankings, Philippe was confident he would be as successful aboard the Henderson hull as Nicolas and Denis Rousse, who took the highest honours with it in 2010. However, a combination of circumstances left the “F-7” in the middle of the pack for the following three years.
Mechanical issues slowed down the boat that became “Team Duclos” during the 2019 season and Philippe Billette made some changes in the hopes of stepping back on the podium. “We have a new motorist and a few improvements were made to the hull, most notably on the skids,” mentions the 45-year-old competitor.
Yan Beaupré, assisted by Scott Meyers, took on the motor aspect and positive signs were seen on the last HRL event held in Beauharnois in September of 2019. “The last season was tough on the mechanical front, but the last weekend in Beauharnois went well and the team’s efforts were rewarded. We should have fun during the season to come and a top 3 is achievable,” believes Philippe Billette.
As in the Hydro 350 class, it is not easy in Formula 2500 and Philippe Billette knows the challenge that awaits him. “The competition is getting tougher and tougher against big budget teams. Some have people working full time on the boats. We do what we can with the financial means we have. During the last season, I had to pay $25,000 from my own pocket,” explains the man who manages rolling stock at the City of Montreal.
Before owning his own boat, Philippe Billette learned the ropes as a crew member for Yan Beaupré, Mathieu Lemelin and Frédéric Couturier. Yan Beaupré now returns the favour as crew chief of “Team Duclos” F-7, while Jean-François Rhéaume works communications.
Born in Salaberry-de-Valleyfield, Philippe lives a passion for hydroplane racing he has had since his childhood. “Regattas were always part of my life. People around me were involved in different capacities, as drivers, crew members, or volunteers. I had my idols, as any other powerboating fan, and some of them were barely older than me. I think of Patrick Haworth and his family, and the Théorêt, Beaupré, Labelle, Leboeuf, Métivier, Rousse and others,” he mentions.
“It was in fact very special for me to be able to count on some of their support within my team. Patrick Haworth was my mentor, in addition to being on communications. I am privileged to have counted on the help of Pierre Beaupré, Jean-Guy Leboeuf, Réal “Toto” Labelle and his son Eric Labelle for the boat preparation. All of these people contributed to growing my desire to get involved in the sport as a crew member and now a driver,” concludes Philippe Billette.