Merc Force has won the superclass event during a dramatic Southern 80 ski racing classic in Echuca / Moama on the Murray River on Sunday.
The 80km race, from Torrumbarry Weir to the Victoria Park boat ramp in Echuca, was marred by the tragic passing of the 50-year-old driver David Morabito who died as a result of injuries sustained in an accident aboard 2 Ironic.
Morabito was pulled from the water unconscious near Norris Bend where Ambulance Paramedics conducted full resuscitation efforts. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
That incident and two others that required competitors to be taken to hospital saw the race abandoned before all boats had completed the course.
For Merc Force though, and the crew of driver Don Gulley, observer Kevin Boylan and skiers Kris Knights and Jake Tegart it was a second big win this season after they broke through for a stunning victory at the Sydney Bridge to Bridge last December.
On Saturday, defending champions The Mistress and driver Leo Welch had comfortably won the Bakers Blitz with both 99 Psycho Clowns and Merc Force well back. Sunday was a different story.
In a thrilling race, Jessica Pearse’s 99 Psycho Clowns led by a mere 1.5 seconds over The Mistress at the checkpoint near the 20km mark then extended that lead to four seconds at halfway.
Meanwhile back in the field, Merc Force, who were the 14th crew to start, was throwing out their own challenge, passing the first checkpoint 1.5 seconds faster than 99 Psycho Clowns had.
By the halfway mark they were one second in arrears of Pearse’s boat but at three-quarter way they had a three second advantage over 99 Psycho Clowns who led The Mistress by just 0.2 of a second.
At that stage it was anyone’s race and after The Mistress crossed the line in 31:18.3, the crowd at Vic Park Boat Ramp held their collective breath as they waited for 99 Psycho Clowns.
When they too crossed the line there was more waiting as it took more than five minutes for 99 Psycho Clowns’ time to register and when it did, it caused through those gathered to gasp out loud – they had finished 0.28 seconds behind.
The Mistress and supporters celebrated, the Clowns commiserated but it was all to no avail as Merc Force powered through the final quarter of the race to win by 7.8 seconds.
It was the first Southern 80 victory at the top level for Gulley and skiers Knights and Tegart and the second for observer Boylan who won the race observing for Stinga in 2007.
For results of other events, click here.
The next event in the Ski Racing Australia classics season is the Ted Hurley Classic on the Murray River in Mildura from March 3-4. The race takes place in two rivers starting in the Darling River at Wentworth and ending in the Murray River at Apex Park, Mildura. With a combination 1 up and 2 up racing, the race is distinctive with tight corners and long stretches.