The Grafton Bridge was the perfect vantage point for the start of the Bridge to Bridge ski race. Image: Lynne Mowbray
They say to finish first, first you must finish, and Sunday’s Grafton Bridge to Bridge was a battle of attrition that saw the Queensland-based Merc Force win ahead of Sydneysiders Stinga F1, while defending champions Superman suffered mechanical failure.
After winning Australia’s most physically demanding ski race for four years running, the Superman team of Darren McGuire (owner/driver), Brett Armstrong (observer), Daniel Cotton and Daniel Graziano (skiers), had every right to be pre-race favourites.
But for the second day running, a crank sensor failure in the engine of their hulking race boat put them out of the running. As nothing more than spectators, they watched fierce rivals Merc Force steal their Grafton crown on an overcast day on the Clarence River.
On the start line the river looked to promise flat, skier friendly conditions. However, Merc Force observer Kevin Boylan said the 108-kilometre course belied first impressions, with plenty of chop throwing down a challenge for skiers Jake Tegart and Kris Knights out on the course.
“We had a relatively good run from Grafton to the turnaround point at Harwood, but it started to get a little choppy towards the turn,” Boylan said.
“This led to the guys becoming a little more fatigued than we planned, so we tried to give them a rest through the corners, especially when we also had to deal with wash from the boats coming the other way as we raced our return leg.”
Even with their strongest competitor out of the running, the pressure was on Merc Force from the get go. The Greg Houston skippered Stinga-F1 pushed the eventual victors the entire way. Despite the two crews urging each other on, they didn’t reach the speeds needed to break the race record, a silver lining to Superman’s day, as they remained the team to beat on the time sheet.
“Records are set by great crews on great days, and today wasn’t a great day,” continued Boylan.
“Everybody has a game plan, and that usually ends as soon as the skiers drop in the water. It changed for us today when Stinga stuck with us for longer than expected. So, we had to work harder than planned and get them in our wash so we could dictate the race.
“Don [Merc Force owner/driver Don Gulley] knows this river well, so once we got in front he could drive is preferred race lines and race for the result.”
With Merc Force and Stinga taking up the first to spots on the dais, the race for third place became a three-way tug-of-war. Debutant Superclass outfit and Grafton locals Burnin’, Unlimited Inboard racer TR Racing and speedy Under 19s competitors Temper 2 were all in the mix.
For all the experience of both Burnin’ and TR Racing, it was the quick kids of Temper 2 who claimed the final podium spot. The result confirming their status as a team waiting in the wings for their moment on the big stage.
The Grafton Bridge to Bridge was the second of nine river classic events on the Australian water skiing calendar. The next event will be the Ted Hurley Memorial Classic on October 14-15 in Wentworth, NSW.
Temper II broke a record during this year’s race. Image: Lynne Mowbray
Local boat Burnin stepped up this year to become the first local boat to compete in the Grafton Bridge to Bridge Superclass, coming third outright in this year’s race. Image: Lynne Mowbray
After taking out the race for the last four years, top contender Superman was forced out of this year’s race, due to mechanical problems. Image: Lynne Mowbray
Top Gun winning lady skiers Karen White and Shantelle King. Image: Lynne Mowbray
Burnin returns at the end of Sunday’s race. Image: Lynne Mowbray
Skiers cross the finishing line. Image: Lynne Mowbray
Merc Force crosses the finishing line to take out this year’s Bridge to Bridge ski classic. Image: Lynne Mowbray
Merc Force heads under the Grafton Bridge at the start of Sundays ski classic. Image: Lynne Mowbray
Competitors gather at the end of Susan Island, prior to the start of the race. Image: Lynne Mowbray