Today’s leg of the Australasian Safari took competitors from remote inland Gascoyne Junction to tropical Carnarvon on the Coral Coast of Western Australia in two stages of 133km and 156km. It was a Marathon Day, meaning no outside assistance was allowed from service crews.
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 riders and drivers 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. 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.
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.
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.”
Shane Diener on Yamaha has moved into third fastest overall and continues to lead the Dakar Challenge. “I saw Todd broken down this morning. As much as you don’t like to see that, it’s better than seeing him injured. About 38 kilometres into the first stage, a stick hit my ankle and I’ve now got a golfball-sized lump on my foot. It was OK to keep riding, it hurts more when I stop. I’m happy with my position and I’m going to try to preserve it and ride til the end,” he said.
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.
He said he was enjoying the camaraderie of the event as well. “It’s a great atmosphere here in the bivouac. Even though were fighting against each other, it stays on the course. In between the stages today I stopped to change an air filter and Lee Stephens stopped to make sure I was alright. We’re all here to get the best result but we’re all helping each other at the same time.”
One of Safari’s biggest characters, Ivan Erceg, was enjoying the wildlife today through station country. “The cows are friendly! I saw a few emus out there today too. I got lost for about three minutes but otherwise it was a good day. The bike’s going sweet as and I felt safe today with the mechanic who built my bike, Paul Nappy, following behind me. I’m happy in my position, I’m leading my class and just have to ride it home now.”
Leg 4 overall results – Top 10
Rodney Faggotter 14:10:02
Matt Fish 14:30:04
Shane Diener 14:48:40
Alister McRae 15:15:12
Lee Stephens 15:20:27
Russell Scoble 15:40:02
Ryan Ingram 16:09:41
Troy O’Connor 16:32:36
Ivan Erceg 16:38:45
Tim Foreman 16:58:09
*Results correct at time of issue, please refer to http://www.rallyresults.com.au for the most up to date information.