RACE REPORT FROM A PRIVATEER
By Michael Fanning
This year I fulfilled a lifelong dream, that is to compete in the Australian Safari International Cross Country Rally. The Safari is one of the longest and toughest off road races in the world, and this year travelled almost 4500 km across desert and station tracks over 8 days from Alice Springs to Darwin in the Northern Territory of Australia. During the event I got stinking hot, freezing cold, wet, lost and run over by a car. And to do all this cost me a fair part of a house deposit. Was it worth it? You bet.
Here is a bit of a write up about my Australian
My 1999 XR 600 had 9000kís on the clock, so I chucked in new rings, valve stem seals and a Ballards cam. A big fin head had been fitted since new. Renthal bars, Acerbis Brushgaurds, an Excel rim on the front, ally bashplate and an FMF pipe were other main mods, but none of these were fitted especially for the event. A 21 litre Acerbis tank blown out to 24 using hot water and a pump was to take care of the fuel requirements, with a 5 litre plastic jerry strapped to the rear guard used on a few of the longer days. For navigation an S&W aluminium manual route sheet holder was fitted, with a Honda digital speedo, generously lent by Safari legend Tim Scriven. New brake pads and wheel bearings were installed, a compulsory rear dust light added and the rims fitted with Pirelli MT 21 hoops with heavy duty tubes. A few MX Retreads were taken along for the rear as well, thanks to Top End Motorcycle Wreckers. A brand new Uni Filter was an important addition to keep everything running fine. Lubrication was by Racing 4T Synthetic, thanks to Mobil Darwin.
Service vehicle was my own Landcruiser trayback, driven by Victorian Mechanical Apprentice of the Year, Byron Kelly.
Short day of 330 km, in a loop from Alice Springs and back. After a nervous start in front of a huge crowd, I suffered a flat just 30 kís into the first stage, losing a bit of time. Set up problems with my nav gear also cost me time early, showing the rides I did for training were far off the pace that I was doing in the event. The first afternoon stage saw me overshoot a corner on a blind crest and crash heavily onto some rocks. While picking the bike up a Nissan Patrol overshot the same corner, sending me running. The Patrol pulled up with my bike hanging out from underneath. Luckily a broken tail light was the only damage, and after a short delay I was able to continue.
Later in that stage, with 100 km to go for the day, my speedo cable broke, leaving me to navigate by guesswork and looking at tracks. In the final 10km spectator stage in Alice I still managed to set equal 3rd fastest time outright, but finished the day in 28th spot.
From Alice Springs the route travelled 630 km to Curtin Springs, not far from Uluru. I managed a reasonably trouble free run for the day, across mainly high speed sand tracks. My lack of top speed was a disadvantage many times on the day, especially on one particular track, which paralleled a railway line for about 30 km. I could only manage 135 km/h, and would have been much happier at 170.
The last stage for the day was a fast 200 km trek around Mt Conner and onto some sandy twisting twin tracks to the finish. It was on this section that I smacked a tree at about 100 km/h with the left of the bars, smashing a brushgaurd but managing to some how stay in control without even backing off. I finished the day safely, having climbed to 16th position.
Heading back to Alice Springs, we had to cover 560 km, over some fairly rough country. Some of the tracks were barely visible in places, and a big wet season had caused ruts so bad the course occasionally actually bypassed the tracks, sometimes for kilometres at a time. After a mid day fuel stop a 120 km transport stage followed, with the first 60 km on bitumen. It was just after turning off this bitumen onto a good dirt road that my front tyre blew, resulting in me hitting and going for a slide the road at about 70km/h. Luckily again no damage resulted, but repairing the tyre caused me to be late for the next time control.
The last section included some enormous sand dunes, with attempting huge jumps hard to resist, possibly the most fun of the whole event. The section finished with a blast along the Finke Desert Race track, also a lot of fun. Arriving back in Alice Springs I was still 16th, but making up time on the next competitor.
Finally heading North, there was 665 km to travel to get to Wycliffe Well for the overnight stop. The day started with a freezing 80 km run up the bitumen in the dark of morning, which froze everyone to the bone. During the day I got momentarily lost a couple of times, only for very short periods. One such time Bruce Garland in the Jackeroo had just overtaken me, and being stuck in his dust I had no choice but to follow him until I could see the road again. When the dust cleared enough, I had no idea where I was, and Bruce was hurtling back towards me, so I hold him responsible for me getting lost that time! Apart from that, a trouble free run for me, arriving in Wycliffe Well having made it into 15th.
A big day, 805 km from Wycliffe Well to Top Springs. Early in the first stage myself and a number of other bikes were lost for about half an hour after missing a hard to see right turn. It was unfortunate, but I was happy not to be alone. Some really long and fast stages, where again I was disadvantaged by my lack of top speed. Crossing the featureless plain of the Barkly Tableland at 130km/h felt like walking pace, in a place so bare you can see the curvature of the earth. Some of the cars were catching and overtaking me at over 220km/h, and the dust from that was horrendous. The day finished with a hot and dusty 185km blast across the Tanami Desert, including one stretch of road dead straight for 70 km. A fairly hassle free day and I finished up in 14th position.
Top Springs to Katherine covered 550 km, with the first competitive section being 200km through the scenic Delamere Station, with some spectacular scenery, some wet creek crossings and finishing with a decent hill climb. The last competitive for the day was a snotty run along a fenceline for 130 km, with rocks and holes well hidden in long grass, and it was a matter of backing off and staying intact. The main downer for the day was paying $1.60 a litre for fuel at one of the refuel points.
Safely in 14th position, I was almost an hour ahead of 15th, and about the same amount from Kevin Schwantz in 13th. So unless I did something stupid, that position was mine.
Finally, getting to Darwin, after travelling 365 from Katherine. Being a Darwin local for the last 5 years meant that a majority of the days tracks I knew, but I tried not to let that change my plans, as there was no way I could make up a place. On the first competitive I dropped into a deep creek and stalled, sucking a heap of water into the carb. After getting out of the creek finally, and then draining the bowl, I had lost so much time that even the ambulance had caught up to me. Last stage for the day was a very fast run along a smooth rally road, before a 50 km transport into Darwin. I wasnít the only one to have trouble for the day, and I actually made up time on Schwantz, but remained 14th.
A 3 km beach sprint was all we had to compete on the last day, and for me it was in front of a huge home crowd. I crossed the finish line jump tenth fastest for the day, finishing up 6th in my class and 14th outright for the event. Andrew Caldecott from South Australia ended up winning, with Casey McCoy from the USA in second place.
Racing in a world level event, with riders and drivers of the calibre here, was a daunting experience at first. I was certainly not on the same level as the quickest of the riders, but then I was far from the slowest, which was a bit of a surprise. I entered purely for the adventure, hoping only to finish, and was more than happy with the result.
Could I have done better? I think so. I missed out a lot on top speed; another 30 km/h would have been great many times. The times when I did reach terminal velocity I backed of a few hundred revs to save my engine, this was my bike, and after this event it was still to be my race, trail and commuter transport.
The S&W route sheet holder was an absolute piece of shit, and for 8 days I swore at myself for wasting my money on it. It cost me considerable time each day.
I didnít change my brake pads for the entire race. That could be either because of the Vesra pad quality, or just because I donít ride hard enough. Pirelli MT 21 rear tyres lasted an easy 2 days before we changed them, while the MX Retreads were retired after just one. Other than that we replaced one speedo cable, glued together a tail light, taped up a broken brushgaurd and repositioned the speedo after the mount broke on Day One. The oil and filter was changed daily, as was the air filter.
Would I do it again? Love to, but probably not next year. Unless someone decides that Iím worth paying for, it will be a while before Iíll be back.
To do the Safari cost me about 8 grand, not including bike and setup. This money gets you an entry, spares, fuel and a bit more.
But it was worth it, and I recommend any rider with an average ability, a half decent bike and a sense of adventure to save up, harass sponsors and go for it, at least once. Donít be put off if you think you are not good enough, you are. Just prepare your bike well, get fit and hit it with a positive attitude.
The race would have been made all that more difficult without the support of my many sponsors;
Tims Surf N Turf Restaurants
Darwin Bolt Supplies
G. T. Engineering
Top End Motorcycle Wreckers And Repairs
Tru- Blu Hire
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