Dakar racer Geoff Olholm has increased his lead at the Australasian Safari after a trouble free run from Gascoyne Junction to tropical Carnarvon on the Coral Coast of Western Australia.
There was two stages of 133km and 156km, with no service until the end of the leg. Most competitors agreed the first stage, which was a rough rocky crossing of the Gascoyne River and a run along the western edge of the Kennedy Ranges, was a huge challenge. Obstacles including creeks and gutters and a newly-graded road through historic Binthalya Station, managed by the Department of Environment and Conservation. The second stage was hard and fast, forcing competitors to tackle demanding red sand dunes before hitting some traditional Safari country with fence to fence tracks, well runs, windmills, tanks and wide open clay pans demanding accurate navigation.
Top competitors in both the motos and autos were struck down with mechanical issues. Dave McShane, who was hot on the heels of auto leader Geoff Olholm, came to an abrupt stop in the
second stage with only a few kilometres left to travel, losing 17 minutes. Les Walkden was aiming for a podium but after breaking a wheel has probably lost too much time. Warren Denham also had a shocker today blowing an engine and was towed from Stage 1. Moto rider Todd Smith, who was sitting in second place at the start of the day, had engine problems into the first stage and was out of the Leg.
It was neck and neck between Geoff Olholm and Dave McShane in the first stage of the day. Olholm was relieved to have gained some time on McShane for tomorrow’s racing. “We took it easy in the beginning but Dave passed us in the rocks – his buggy is great in that type of terrain,” Olholm said.
“We then got lost, cracked a windscreen, and fell a long way behind him so we knew we had to work hard in the second stage and managed to catch up with his dust.
“We worked hard until he was out with mechanical issues. He’s definitely a surprise package, it’s a great little buggy. I’ve really had to drive quick to stay in front. It makes it so much easier for the next three days to have some time on Dave now.”
McShane was having a great day until they neared the end of the second stage. “About seven kilometers from the end of the second stage the car cut out. We thought it was fuel and after a few minutes we managed to get it started again. We got about another three kilometers into a narrow section and then it stopped properly. We were convinced we’d run out of fuel and thought we were out, but Rob (Herridge) stopped and towed us to the finish and dropped us at the time control.
“When we had a good look over the car it turned out a circuit breaker had popped out. I didn’t even know the car had one. We’ve lost about 17 minutes.”
Rob Herridge, who has held onto third place overall, said they were knocked around in the first stage. “It was really rough leaving Gascoyne Junction. The second stage was very fast and sandy. The car was overheating and we were forced to back off because we were worried about running out of fuel the sand was so heavy. We also had to tow out Dave (McShane) out as he was blocking the stage.”
65-year-old Les Walkden had plenty of drama today with the wheels literally falling off his day’s racing and his bush mechanic skills were put to the test. “We went up on two wheels at one point at almost 200 kilometres and there was so much dust I didn’t see the corner. I managed to ease it round – she’s a rock solid old car,” Walkden said.
“We were having a big crack at the event this year, but then towards the end of the day we broke a wheel. It sheared all six wheel studs. The wheel fell off, the brakes rolled off into a paddock and Reubecca (co-driver) had to run around picking up the pieces. I managed to fix it enough to get to the end of the stage, we had to come out slowly as we had no brakes.
“I just wanted a podium this year, I didn’t need to win. I’m going to have to come back next year now.”
Yamaha rider Rod Faggotter was one who didn’t face any major issues and held his lead. “I made some navigation errors in the first stage – the course was pretty challenging in parts. I let Matt Fish pass me as I was getting lonely riding on my own! The bike’s staying strong and I’ll be pushing from here on. Actually, I can’t go slow as I’ll lose my concentration.”
Matt Fish on KTM won both stages today and sits 19 minutes behind Faggotter. “I had a good clean run and really enjoyed the course. The first stage was quite tricky but finished with sandy and flowing and tracks and I’m a fan of that. There was more of that in the second stage. I’ve cut the lead a bit from Rod and now it’s a fine balance between pushing and preserving. I’m still trying to win,” Fish said.
Todd Smith doesn’t think he will ride tomorrow and he and brother Jake – both past winners of Safari – are out of contention. “I was catching Rod in the first 30 kilometres but then I had engine problems. Jake stopped and we tried to replace my engine with his but we didn’t have the right tools. I put so much into the months leading up to this event, I’m really disappointed.”
Rally champion Alister McRae on KTM continues to creep up the field and said he didn’t have too bad a day for a rally driver. “I’m going to try to keep going and the same pace and not make any mistakes. The bike’s going really good, all we’ve been doing is changing the oil and the air filters and that’s it. It’s been perfect, it just needs to be perfect for three more days. The course is a challenge. I found the last long stage really hard towards the end yesterday.
John Maragozidis continues to just hold the Quad lead with Heath Young hot on his heels. He said he enjoyed today’s course. “I caught Heath after 50 kilometres but couldn’t pass him in the dust. Julia (the bike) is going great, we just need basic maintenance tonight. My plan now is to avoid trouble and not to get lost.”
Leg 4 Highlights