MotoOnline.com.au speaks to off-road desert specialist Ben Grabham just days after his Hattah victory and also about the upcoming Australasian Safari.
When you think of desert racing in Australia over the last few years the first person that springs to mind is Motorex KTM rider Ben Grabham, the all-rounder who has taken off-road racing by storm and won his most recent event at Hattah last weekend.
Grabbo has already won both Hattah and the Finke desert races this year in his first season with KTM, also running in fifth position so far in the E2 class of the Australian Off-Road Championship (AORC).
Next month will see Grabbo, from Bathurst in New South Wales, compete for his third straight Australasian Safari victory in Western Australia, which would cap off an exceptional year of desert racing for him.
MotoOnline.com.au caught up with Grabham for a quick chat while he was in the middle of unpacking after his Hattah success.
Grabbo, you won yet another desert race on the weekend at Hattah, this one your second victory in that particular race. Explain the race to us and just how you won on Sunday. Lucker movie
After the last two years where I had raced with Warren Smart I knew that he was going to be hard to beat, so going into it I knew that he would be the one I was going to race.
In the Prologue he got me by a few seconds there, but I didn’t feel that great and knew that I had a bit more speed left in me than in the Prologue where I qualified second.
Once the race came we battled it out like a motocross race for about the first three hours and then with about an hour to go I managed to gap him a little bit and then held on to the lead from there.
You also won the Finke desert race earlier this year, so it looks as though you’re on a roll right now.
Yeah, I won the Finke just under a month ago and even though they are both desert races they are both totally opposite to each other. The Finke’s just crazy, high speed, and just flat out from point to point, whereas Hattah is like a four hour motocross race in some ways. It’s a lot more technical and tighter, you know, you have a 30 kilometre loop and 500 entries that are all nearly on the track at once.
How rough and demanding does it get after four hours on that type of circuit in that race?
It’s very demanding. Because I was one of the first out on the track it’s like perfect because it had been ripped from the year before, but then the next time you go around it’s had over 400 bikes on it and it gets rough.
It’s pretty challenging because some of the straights that you’re used to being top gear flat out on become whooped out, so you just always need to be on your toes, looking ahead and ready for anything.
It would probably be the toughest one day race that I do anywhere just because of how many bikes are on the track in the sandy conditions.
You also did the Hattah-Finke double in 2007, so what is it about these races that makes you do so well. You must enjoy these desert events.
I just enjoy the long races where I know that if I have a crash or something then I’ve got hours to make it up. It’s something that tests your fitness and your mind set. In some of the races that we’ve had in the AORC recently everything is over within like five minutes, so I like the races where I’ve got all day to make up time or to find lines. Because I enjoy it I guess I tend to go better in it [laughs].
A key to this season has been your switch to the Motorex KTM. How has that transition been for you so far after many years with GHR Honda?
It’s definitely been a step forward for me. Last year at Hattah I suppose I struggled to hang with Smarty, whereas this year it’s just the whole package of the KTM team – it’s more like riding in a family or something.
We’ve got Wonka (team manager and rider Brad Williscroft), Ben Kearney (teammate) and I helping each other out, and then I just find the bike suits me better. I guess it’s probably from KTM’s World Enduro background the bike seems to work better for what I do.
The variety of bikes that KTM has for off-road racing must be a bonus too, because I read that you said the 505 XC-F was the best bike you’ve ever raced at Hattah.
That’s it. A lot of the big bikes that I’ve ridden in the past I’ve found have been handfuls to ride, where the KTM has so much power and is quicker than anything else on the track but it’s easy to ride too. It makes a long endurance race good because you know that the bike is faster than anything else out there in a straight line.
You’ve also been competing in the AORC and competed in the A4DE this year, but how much focus do you put into those events compared to the desert racing? Neverwas full
I’ve been putting a lot more into it than what I have been in the past few years and I’m top five in the series at the moment, but where I am lacking is in the tighter terrain.
But I can’t be too hard on myself because a lot of the time I do put 100 percent effort into the desert racing. I try to put it all into the off-road side of things, but just the time that you spend out in the desert takes time while the likes of Stefan Merriman and those guys are back home practicing in the tight terrain.
I sort of lose out there, but now that I’ve got the Finke and Hattah out of the way then I’m actually going to do a state motocross race in a week’s time and then do the MX Nationals round at Lakes, just to see if I can hook into the higher intensity of those races.
Hopefully I will do a bit better and finish the year off on a high in the national off-road series.
You now have the Australasian Safari coming up next month in Western Australia. How confident are you of taking out your third consecutive Safari?
Yeah, that’s it. The Safari’s a bit of a different race and there’s not much that you can do to really practice. You get a map each day and then you’re sort of on your own in the desert trying to find your way.
I’m not too worried about trying to prepare or anything, like my fitness on the bike is all good, so it’s just down to the mental side of things and all about getting through the event without getting lost.
I know that the bike’s good enough and that I’m fast enough to get through the desert, but it’s the kind of race that I can’t go into thinking that I’m going to win just because it doesn’t matter how fast you are. It’s all about how well you can read maps and pick up roads so you don’t get lost.
There are some guys that you could probably beat by an hour in Hattah or somewhere, but in the Safari they could be up racing with you if they’re good navigators.
Good luck there mate, we’re looking forward to watching the race pan out.
Yeah, thanks a lot. I’ll need all the luck I can get for that one [laughs]!