In consultation with competitors, organisers amended the course for moto riders in Leg 6 of Australasian Safari overnight following the tragic incident where the event lost one of its biggest and best-loved characters, Ivan Erceg.
Moto and quad competitors ran only the second stage of today’s Leg – 206km from Hamelin Pool to Kalbarri, while auto and side-by-side competitors ran the complete course of two stages.
In the first stage, which covered 260km, autos and side-by-sides tackled cattle station country with fast fencelines, before progressively and relentlessly becoming tougher and rougher before winding up on rally-style roads through Hamelin Station.
On Stage 2, where all competitors raced, the course took in the soft white sand coastline along Murchison Station, and the western side of the Murchison River.
Moto competitors, many riding in black armbands, had a more measured run today while the autos felt the brunt of a long hard slog and the quads are fighting to the finish.
Rod Faggotter on Yamaha leads the motos by 26 minutes. He said that not riding the first stage this morning was the right decision. “It just allowed us to regroup. Today was a straightforward run and I was cruising and preserving the bike. Although tomorrow might seem like a formality I still have to get to the finish line,” he said.
Matt Fish on KTM has held his second place and said he had a good ride today. “It was a demanding test on the bikes, there was little navigation to do so I didn’t have to think too much and took it easy.”
Shane Diener also on Yamaha is sitting 14 minutes behind Fish in third position. He said the first 50 kilometres were particularly hard. “After yesterday, it was a very hard day in difficult circumstances. I had a little slow crash today and broke the ICO (trip meter) towards the end. I just lost some concentration for a minute. Now I’m just conserving the bike.”
Lee Stephens is doing exceptionally well for his first Safari and has moved up to fourth place having been second fastest in today’s stage. “I’m starting to get the hang of it! I prefer sand riding than the hard rocky terrain. I wasn’t pushing, just trying to be consistent and keep the bike in good condition. It was very hard to concentrate in the first half of the stage today because of yesterday.”
Alister McRae dropped a place and said he didn’t have a good run. “The hose came off the fuel tank and I had to stop and fix it, then the bike got caught in fence wire. I expected to lose some time today, I’m not as confident on the sandy stages.”
West Australian competitors and multiple Safari entrants Paul Nappy, Vern Strange along with Andrew Perry wore Ivan Erceg’s bike number 19 today as a tribute to their good friend. At the end of Leg 4, Ivan was 18 hours ahead in his vehicle class so as a measure of respect for his performance, Nappy and Strange continued to check his card in at time controls to give him a ‘win’.
There were thrills and spills in the autos today but Geoff Olholm and Gordon Trigg comfortably held their lead, which is now almost 35 minutes.
Olholm said the first stage was rough. “I dropped four minutes, there were big bulldust patches and some tricky navigation around the cattle stations. In the second stage we got a puncture about half way, but honestly, other than that, the car is going perfect, it is so comfortable to drive, we’re just holding our position now.”
Dave McShane seemed to enjoy the scenery rather than worrying about mechanical issues today. “We had a really good first stage – there was a lot of wildlife, thousands of goats, a lot of cattle and a lot of emus. The first stage required technical navigation, it was really fast. The scenery was fantastic, it was hard to keep my mind on the job. There were huge treed areas, green fields, sensational rocky outcrops and beautiful purple wild flowers everywhere.”
It wasn’t such a walk in the park for Rob Herridge and Sam Hill who dropped a place due to mechanical issues. “I was hoping to hold onto third position with our six minute lead but we got a puncture in the first stage and four kilometres from the end of it we broke the front lower arm, making the drive shaft pull out the gearbox and we lost a lot of oil. We did some makeshift repairs, we pushed the arm back into the gearbox and held it with a strap and it made it four kilometres into the Hamelin service where our crew was able to make the repairs and we kept going. We’re really happy to still be in it, I though we were going to be out, so it was a bittersweet day.”
Andrew Travis and his dad David Travis have pushed into third place. Andrew Travis said it had been three years in the making to reach this point. “It’s been a big effort to get to our first Safari, there’s a lot of time and effort involved. Our goal is to complete the course and see out all of the stages. Sitting in third position is well above our expectations. I had a good clean run today and our plan for tomorrow is to be nice to the car, lower the tyre pressure and make no mistakes. It’s been a great experience driving with dad navigating – it’s the only time I listen to him!”
It’s still an intensely close competition for the quads with just over three minutes time difference between first and second and Heath Young has taken the lead.
Heath enjoyed today’s course. “There were a few distinctive ruts from the stages run a few days ago, so I had to ride to one side of the track. Tonight we will be just be doing routine maintenance to be ready for tomorrow.”
John Maragozidis said he had an interesting day. “I started behind Heath, caught up to him after 40 kilometres and followed his dust for 100 kilometres. I had a fuel supply issue that cost me two minutes and a small navigation error where I lost two minutes. The bike’s running really well but I reckon I’ve lost the lead. There’s been a big fight on every day and I’ve never been in such a close Safari before.”
Tomorrow is the final Leg and competitors will be bringing it home to Geraldton. They will be racing in three stages totalling 74 competitive kilometres. A Ceremonial Finish on the Geraldton Foreshore from 3pm will see weary riders and drivers achieve an enormous goal but just finishing the race.