Queensland driver/owner Don Gulley and his NSW Merc Force crew made up of observer Kevin Boylan and skiers Jake Tegart and Kris Knights have taken ownership of the Murray River in Robinvale, Victoria today, winning the penultimate river classic of the Australian ski racing season.
More than 140 teams took to the start line today at the Robinvale Bridge, from experienced campaigners to fresh-faced rookies. The course would take them to Bonvaricall Creek and back, the winning teams completing each leg of the 80km course in less than 14 minutes.
The victory continues Merc Force’s scintillating form on the water, that has seen them win four of seven major river events this season so far. Today’s Robinvale crown – sealed in record time – will now sit alongside wins at the Grafton Bridge to Bridge, Sydney Bridge to Bridge and the famed Southern 80.
Their Southern 80 victory, achieved less than a month ago was also completed in record pace. Today the team won in 26 minutes, 21 seconds to eclipse the former record by Sapphire by just under 12 seconds.
In future years the results achieved by this Merc Force team will make it look like they did it easy, such has been their consistency at the top. However the paper won’t show how hard the team have worked to become the best and between gasps for air, Knights said that today’s win and record was a hard-fought one.
“The run up [in the first leg] were a bit rusty and ended up putting more rope on it at half way because we were starting to run out of room in the wash,” Knights said.
“They key was pushing hard through the corners – we knew on the straights we couldn’t go harder due to the new rule which limits our boats to 120mph.
“Now we have won four of the river classics this season – that’s half of them and we’re pretty happy with that.”
Also within reach of Merc Force now is a chance to win the ‘King of the Murray’ title, awarded to the team that is most consistent across the four Victorian river classic events – the Ted Hurley Classic, Southern 80, Robinvale 80 and upcoming Mildura 100.
They lead that competition 56 points to 50 points ahead of closest rival Superman, led by owner/driver Darren McGuire with observer Brett Armstrong and skiers Daniel Cotton and Daniel Graziano.
But one variable stands in the way for Merc Force, and that is the impending birth of Knights’ second child, due on the Easter weekend…the same date the season-ending Mildura 100 is scheduled for.
“We would really like to get King of the Murray, but I am in the hands of the gods with my wife due to give birth the Easter weekend,” Knights smiled.
“We’ll see what happens. My gut feel is that it’s 50/50.
“I told Donny [owner/driver Don Gulley] after we crossed the finish line today that he might need to book a private room at Mildura hospital.”
Rounding out today’s overall podium was Superman followed by the Pigs Arsenal team of Chris Stevens (driver), Mark Boyer (observer) and brothers Sean & Jack Stevens (skiers).
The next, and final race of the Australian river classics events will be the Mildura 100, which takes place across the Easter weekend. The main race will take place on Sunday April 1, departing and returning in the heart of Mildura.
TOP 5 RESULTS
- Merc Force – 26min, 21sec
- Superman – 26min, 40sec
- Pigs Arsenal – 27min, 22sec
- Sapphire – 27min, 56sec
- Stinga F1 – 28min, 17sec
*Full results and report to follow)