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Australian Water Ski Championships

It was billed as the championship that would revolutionise the sport of water ski racing.
While it is too soon to tell whether that will, in fact, be the case, for two days in September Round 1 of the Nautilus Marine Water Ski Racing Championship provided the kind of intense ski racing never before seen.
It was fitting, then, that the venue playing host to this new era was the scene of one of Australian ski racing’s finest hours, the 2011 World Ski Racing Championships on Bramble Bay at Redcliffe in Queensland.
On the same water exactly one year before, Australia claimed 12 out of 16 World Championships.
It was only fitting then, that Round 1 of the Nautilus Marine Water Ski Racing Championship, part of the Moreton Bay Regional Council’s Celebrate Redcliffe Festival, featured perhaps the finest field of one-up ski racers seen in Australia for years.
An entry list featuring Wayne Mawer, Peter Procter, Grant Turner, Mark Weaver, Daniel Graziano, Mick Kelly, Ben Gulley and Jake Tegart was always going to produce something special.
The race for a $25,000 winner’s cheque for the championship victor – ensuring the new championship is the richest in the world for ski racing – might also help.
However, as crews arrived for the first of three rounds comprising the championship, a number admitted to not having a clue as to how to this new format of racing would work – though they were unanimous in their enthusiasm for it.
“It is similar to the World Championships, in that it is a circuit-style format and we race side-by-side,” said Peter Procter, who returned from the USA in July after claiming his second Catalina Ski Race victory in three years.
“However, it is a much shorter course, and the races will last only 20 minutes or so – rather than the usual hour.”
“With so many boats on course at the same time, it’s going to be pretty crazy – hopefully me and the Team Hell guys can qualify well, get a good start and stay out of all the messy stuff behind us.”
Each round of the championship is split into two days of racing, with Race 1 held on the Saturday, and Race 2 on the Sunday – each is a separate race counting for the same amount of points toward the championship.
For each race, two qualifying heats are held. With ten F1 boats across the first row, ten F2 boats across the second row, and women’s F1 and F2 boats starting on the final row, the grid for the first heat is set randomly – the grid for Heat 2 is a reverse of that in Heat 1.
The combined times from both heats are used to set the grid for that day’s Race Final, with the fastest scoring, what would turn out to be, the all-important inside pole.
Points are only awarded for the final Race results – heats count for no points, and merely set the grid positions for each race.
With such a new format of racing, teams left the Pelican Park boat ramp not fully sure of what to expect…
They need not have worried.
From the dropping of the Australian flag to start Heat 1, Race 1 the action was spectacular – for competitors and spectators alike.
99 Psycho Clowns Racing, in a brand new Force boat (that the team weren’t even sure they would use when they arrived in Redcliffe), struck the first blow by converting an advantageous grid position to take out Heat 1 with Wayne Mawer.
Team Hell, utilising Tru Blue for the tight confines of the four kilometre circuit, minimised the damage of starting from an outside pole in Heat 1, Peter Procter crossing the line second.
However, the story of the heats for Race 1 would unfold in the second run after 99 Psycho Clowns and Tru Blue waged a side-by-side (and often airborne) battle.
With one lap remaining in Heat 2, 99 Psycho Clowns and Wayne Mawer pulled off to the inside of the course with broken steering, allowing Tru Blue to romp home unchallenged and claim pole position for Race 1.
Meanwhile, the disabled boat of 99 Psycho Clowns returned to the boat ramp and was whisked away for evaluation – the team unsure whether it would be able to fix the problem for Race 1 that afternoon. At best, the team would be mired down the field for the start.
Behind the frontrunners, the Noel Griffin Racing crew running F2 World Champ Mark Weaver behind Burnin inherited second place in Heat 2 and, combined with fourth in Heat 1, saw him take the second pole on the grid for Race 1.
The ominous-looking Superman with Daniel Graziano skiing began what was to be a remarkably consistent weekend with third and fourth in the first two heats setting up a third place start on Saturday afternoon.
“It’s a pretty exciting style of racing we’re doing here,” said Tru Blue’s observer Damien Matthews after Heat 2.
“This style of course seems to lend itself to the inside boats, so it’s harder coming from an outside grid spot. We didn’t take too many risks in that first heat, and just hoped that, with a better grid spot in that heat, we’d be able to get enough of a lead for pole.
“It was much, much rougher for that second heat – it was hard enough to just get the boats through, let alone ski in it. We were getting some big air on that back straight – doing a lot of prop-standing.
“It’s fun to race in when it’s close like that [in Heat 2 with 99 Psycho Clowns] – it makes it exciting for us and for spectators.”
Codie Rigg and the Triple 6 crew were the stars in F2 through Saturdays heats, starting Race 1 from fifth outright.
Meanwhile, 99 Psycho Clowns Racing returned to the pit area in time for Race 1, the steering fixed on their new boat – but due to start from the second row of the grid.
The other big name down the field for the start of Race 1 was Grant Turner and the Noel Griffin Racing crew in Blazen, who hit a hole in the water during Heat 2 that forced Turner to drop the rope.
Most who had watched the Saturday heats anticipated that Tru Blue would romp away from pole position – and with good reason.
Tru Blue and Peter Procter would be able to dart off from the inside pole, and spend the first couple of laps in relatively clean air – while the expected nearest challenger, 99 Psycho Clowns Racing and Wayne Mawer, would be stuck trying to pass slower traffic.
This proved accurate – at least for the first part of the race. However, as the field spread out things began to tighten up – Tru Blue, with Mark Cranny at the wheel, was being forced wide to pass the lapped traffic, while 99 Psycho Clowns Racing’s Daniel McMahon was able to hug the inside line throughout the entire race, almost exclusively passing slower crews on the inside.
By taking the shortest possible route around the course, 99 Psycho Clowns Racing was able to run a much faster race than the Tru Blue crew – the blistering and high-flying seven laps saw double world champ Mawer and his team take an unlikely Race 1 win.
“With a new boat, we normally wouldn’t go that hard – we just had to commit big time,” said McMahon. “We were getting some big air on the back straight because we were pushing so hard – it was scary big, but that was where we were making up most of our time.
“We knew our skier [Mawer] would hate it, but he knew what we were doing and was committed to it.”
Runner-up Procter was philosophical.
“It’s always disappointing to run second,” he said. “I think I’m lacking a bit of ski fitness to start the season – this is my first race since Catalina.
“I guess having Psycho Clowns on the second row made it difficult for us – it’s very challenging in these conditions and it made it hard to pace ourselves.
“We probably took it a little bit easy in the middle of the race and they caught up a bunch of time – we ran home pretty hard in the end but it just wasn’t enough.”
Graziano continued his ever-improving run with the Superman team, finishing just five seconds behind Tru Blue for the final step on the podium.
Mark Weaver and Burnin came in fourth, ahead of Jake Tegart (Merc Force) and Ben Gulley (Wild Thing).
In F2, Daniel Cotton (Team 50), beat home Richard Souwer (Rapid Pulse) and Justin Cadden (F2 Wild), while Trudi Stout (Twenty Four) and Leanne Campbell (Tuff N Ruff) took out the Women’s F1 and F2 races respectively.
Crews returned to Pelican Park on Sunday morning confident that they had a better grasp on this championship-style racing than they did 24 hours earlier.
It was predicted by many that the quality of the racing would improve as a result…
And boy, did it!?
Heat 1 was decided by just half a second, while the Race 2 final saw a late overtaking manoeuvre for the victory.
Spectators also saw the arrival of Daniel Graziano as one of Australia’s finest ski racers.
In Heat 1, it was Graziano and the Superman team that pounced when race leader 99 Psycho Clowns Racing was baulked by a pack of slower traffic on the last lap. Within striking distance, Superman driver Darren McGuire sensed an opportunity – and realised his only option was the outside. He bravely moved three lanes wide around the outside of 99 Psycho Clowns through the final two turns, hoping the better momentum would pay off…
It almost did. Sweeping way wide around the final turn (possibly just 50 metres from the shore), the black Superman boat, with the bright orange life jacket of Daniel Graziano trailing behind stormed home at the Race 1 winners.
They would come up mere inches short – a finish line a further 100 metres down the main straight would likely have changed the result.
The even bigger story in Heat 1 saw Tru Blue retire on the first lap with a broken transmission – it was a problem too great to fix, meaning Peter Procter and his team would be unable to compete at all in Race 2.
Superman would take the day’s second heat, converting an inside pole position into a comfortable win. Behind, Noel Griffin Racing team mates Mark Weaver (Burnin) and Grant Turner (Blazen) were fighting for the minor placings, with the Turner crew being driven by Griffin eventually prevailing.
99 Psycho Clowns Racing played it safe in Heat 2, dropping as low as sixth before making up time to finish fourth, and lock up the second place on the grid alongside pole-sitter Superman.
“The water’s a bit better for the drivers and observers today, but it’s definitely not easier on us,” said Graziano after Heat 2. “We’re pulling some pretty big speeds out there.
“Our boat is very light and is great on rivers, but the rough conditions yesterday didn’t really suit it – it was hard trying to keep it in the water, but today’s been really good.
“That first heat was intense – it took me ten minutes to get my breath back. My heart rate was through the roof…
“We were on the outside the whole way, but with the conditions the way they were we could go a bit faster and maintain our momentum.”
Burnin (with Weaver) and Blazen (with a much more comfortable Turner) would start Race 2 in third and fourth respectively.
From pole position, and with the heavily fancied 99 Psycho Clowns Racing crew in close proximity, Graziano admitted the game plan for Race 2 was simple… “Come out of the blocks as hard and fast as you possibly can, get out in front and hopefully let the others slow each other up.”
The plan worked too… For a while.
Superman and Graziano got away to the perfect start, winning out in the sprint to Turn 1. From there Superman was able to hold 99 Psycho Clowns at bay – every time Wayne Mawer’s crew got close, Superman driver Darren McGuire would hold the inside line and push his Psycho Clowns counterpart, Daniel McMahon wider.
Soon, McMahon and Mawer backed off and dropped in behind Graziano looking for a way past.
When the opportunity arose, McMahon didn’t need an invitation… At about two-thirds race distance, Superman and Graziano were forced wide to pass some slower traffic – which was all the incentive McMahon needed.
He swooped to the inside and the two crews ran side-by-side down the back straight, before McMahon’s inside line paid off around the final two bends. The 99 Psycho Clowns and Wayne Mawer slipped between Superman and the lapped F2 boat of Melt Down coming three wide onto the main straight.
From there, 99 Psycho Clowns would not be headed, gradually extending the lead to take out its second straight race.
“We were stuck on the outside and they were able to dictate terms really,” said Daniel McMahon after the race. “I saw a little window on the inside, so we backed off a bit, let them go and prayed that the traffic would work in our favour.
“As soon as we dropped back I thought I was going to cop it from the guys when we got in if I stuffed it up, but it worked for us so I shouldn’t get yelled at.”
Two-time world champion Wayne Mawer wasn’t going to be yelling at his driver.
“Once he saw an opportunity he had to take it because we wouldn’t have made it around the outside,” said the Queenslander. “They were just going to hold us wider and wider.
“It was a risk to drop back, but it was a calculated one as to whether you can get back in such a short race. After today, anyone can win this championship, but you’ve got to be in position and be prepared to take a few risks – conservative won’t work.”
Despite ultimately falling to his two-time world champion counterpart, Daniel Graziano remained upbeat.
“Wayne and Peter Procter are the pinnacle of the sport at the moment – they’re in a league of their own,” said Graziano.
“To go with Wayne and stick it to him – I know he didn’t do it easy, so there’s no shame to come second to a bloke like that.”
Behind, Mark Weaver and Burnin prevailed for NGR to take third, while Ben Gulley recorded a strong fourth place with Wild Thing, ahead of the other NGR crew of Grant Turner and Blazen rounding out the top five.
Mawer now leads the championship with 50 points, eight ahead of Graziano in second place, and another four ahead of Weaver in third.
In the F2 class, Team 50 and Daniel Cotton made it consecutive wins, finishing ahead of Justin Cadden behind F2 Wild, while Trudi Stout and Leanne Campbell also backed up victories in their respective classes.
The Junior Boys class provided some of the closest racing of the weekend, proving that the future of ski racing is indeed in safe hands.
Running separately to the senior championship protagonists, the consistency of Blake Atkins behind Still Kidn (1x third place, 3x second place) saw him come out on top in the championship standings, four points ahead of Mitch Mulcahy, who won two races for Shamick Racing, and seven points ahead of Brayden Jameson, who took the other two wins behind Tuff N Ruff.
In the Junior Girls, Rachel Stapleton confirmed her reputation as the most promising girl in Australia, winning all four races for Robertson Racing – she sits 14 points ahead of Bec Petre, who was second in three out of four races skiing behind Nutcracker.
Daniel Campbell was victorious in the Local class, winning three out of four races behind The Patriot, while Jared Coey came second behind F2 Wild.
The Nautilus Marine Water Ski Racing Championship wasn’t just about ski racing, with a host of entertainment options for spectators between racing.
Freestyle Motocross superstars Cam Sinclair and Matt Schubring ran demonstrations in Pelican Park – as did the wakeboarding Teunissen brothers, Brad and World Junior Champ Cory on Bramble Bay.
XXXX Gold gave fans visiting its Retreat on the shore a chance to win a $10,000 holiday, while the kids were catered for with carnival rides in the park throughout the day.
It all made for a spectacular weekend of entertainment for the 12,000 spectators attending over the two days.

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