Ford Downhill Finals |

Ford Downhill Finals

SQUAW VALLEY – Fitting that the Ford Downhill finals were staged minutes from Nevada gaming, since heading into the Squaw Valley USA race Saturday, there were open odds on who might win.

In previous races, there had been team victories from the French, U.S. and Italian racers, with Canadian and Swiss teams fast on their heels. In the individual competition, Kyle Rasmussen of the U.S. had been most consistent, but French racer Jean-Luc Cretier and Swiss skier Daniel Mahrer both had posted wins. Adding to the confusion of a stronger-than-usual talent field, injuries kept changing the tote board. Italy lost Josef Polig to a dislocated hip at race No. 1 in the five-race series, U.S. racer Tommy Moe blew out a knee one month back, and Franz Heinzer of Switzerland still is suffering optical nerve damage from his fall at Mammoth, Calif. Indeed Mahrer has joined three different partners in only five races.

Race day presented unheard-of downhill weather – still, clear, warm – plus a buffed top-to-bottom track on Squaw’s Olympic downhill course. Chief of race, former Canadian national team racer Dave Irwin, spent days preparing the run.

“On a day like today – sunny, blue skies, blanket of white – the course is in perfect shape, “Irwin said. “It’s a real rocketer. Yeah, I’d love to run it. I told Felix and Luc, they don’t know how lucky they are to be up there running it today.”

The final race offered $100,000 in prize money, and with double points, a chance for any nation to bust up the Franco-American tie for first. Two Ford Explorers for the season’s best team sweetened the pot for the two-run final.

A ripping first run put Mahrer, Luc Alphand (FRA) and Rasmussen 1-2-3. Speeds hit the 78-84-mph range. As California sunshine threatened to slow the course, Rasmussen needed third place or better for the day to take the overall title. A nail-biting second run put the ever-fluid Mahrer into first, while Rasmussen hung onto second – almost to the end. Alphand, the final racer, nudged into second again behind Mahrer – but a third-place Kyle Rasmussen claimed the overall title.

“I thought it was a really good winter,” Rasmussen said, to summarize the year. “Everything went well at each race this season – at all five events, I was on the podium. My worst finish was third, and I can’t be too disappointed with that.”

Consistent racing by the French assured the team of first in the overall standings – and two sets of car keys. The Swiss were the best team of the day. Mahrer talked about his latest teammate, Daniel Cadulff.

“I have a good choice for next year,” Mahrer said of his latest Swiss teammate, Daniel Cadluff. “If Franz (Heinzer) can’t come back, then it looks like Daniel made it, even though he hasn’t trained downhill in five years.”

Reggie Crist, who filled in for the injured Tommy Moe, described the race hill

“It’s really a fun course,” Crist said. “You get out of the starting gate and you’re just instantly up to speed, firing at 60-70 mph by the third gate. It just keeps coming at you. It’s quick.

The French may have raced their final Ford Downhill. Cretier, the reigning Olympic champion, will try a World Cup comeback next season. Alphand is pondering a second retirement to spend more time racing cars. Moe is getting back to form quickly, while Heinzer is still struggling. Next season’s scoreboard may also include teams from Norway and Austria.

Favorites for next year? All bets are off.

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