Forced out: Southern 80 kings withdraw

By Fraser Walker-Pearce

THERE will be no three-peat at the 2019 Southern 80 — Merc Force has pulled out of contention.

After going back-to-back in February this year, skiers Kristopher Knights and Jake Tegart have both retired. One was forced through an eye injury and the other felt he had done his dash.

That left observer Kevin Boylan and driver Don Gulley with a lot of thinking to do — and in the end, they too called it a day.

One of the most successful boats in the 80’s recent history, the people behind Merc Force decided there would be no three-peat attempt in the race’s 50th year.

Merc Force driver Don Gulley, 58, told the Riv after nearly 30 years in and around the race, he had to make the hardest decision of his career.

‘‘It wasn’t an easy decision to make — it was very difficult. But through a few factors out of our control we made the decision,’’ Gulley said.

‘‘I agreed with my wife that I was going to retire when I turned 60, so I only had a couple more seasons in me anyway.

‘‘Anyhow she’s put up with me racing for a long time and we both thought it was time to pull up stumps and do some other things. We’ll still be heading to the 80 though, just as a spectator though,’’ he said.

Gulley said with limited time until the next race rolled around, the Merc Force team decided to call it a day.

‘‘(The decision) really was forced on us, because in the end we wouldn’t have been able to compete with the same skiers and I realised I wasn’t able to build up a team in that short time,’’ he said.

Merc Force won the 2018 Southern 80 with a time of 30 minutes, 8.56 seconds — just 25 seconds off the all-time record, set by Hellrazor in 2015.

‘‘It’s very disappointing not to be doing it, and that nine seconds will always bug me — being so close to the 30-minute mark — but it’s not to be,’’ Gulley said.

‘‘Nine is not my favourite number at the moment.’’

And with more spare time on his hands, Gulley said he had a few predictions for the 80 now that he won’t be competing.

‘‘I’m hoping I might be doing some commentary,’’ he said.

‘‘If they put me behind the microphone on the finish line, I think it’d good to get a perspective from a former racer.

‘‘It’ll depend on who’s skiing with who, and I’m not on top of who’s with who this year. There’s been a bit of movement in the world due to injuries and, to be honest, a lack of top end skiers.

‘‘There are certainly some drivers and skiers who are more than capable — I’d say Tim Pickford with Sapphire, Arkham Asylum and the local boat Mistress would be good picks.’’