News 3 Aug 2009

Off-Road: Smith retains Safari lead as Grabham's luck fades


There continues to be a domination of Smiths at the head of the Australasian Safari as the second day of the 3600 kilometre marathon took crews from Geraldton on the coast to the inland town of Mt Magnet.

KTM factory rider Todd Smith is still out in front of the motorbike category with a solid one minute and 28 second lead over his brother, Honda’s Jacob Smith. AJ Roberts is in third place a further 13 seconds back. Meanwhile two-time winner, Ben Grabham, may have lost his chance of victory after tyre problems cost him more than an hour.

CAN AM’s Paul Smith has increased his lead in the Quad bike section to over six minutes, with the KTM of Heath Young and Czech star Josef Machacek pushing hard in pursuit.

Monday’s two stages, conducted in perfect weather, totalled over 380 competitive kilometres and offered crews a variety of fast station roads along fence lines and rough sections, where care was needed to avoid damage to man and machine.

The second stage also presented a unique problem, with quicksand around the edge of a lake needing to be avoided.

While Todd Smith has established a handy lead over his two-wheel rivals, with over 2500 kilometres still to run, the NSW rider knows that his lead means little. Nevertheless, he was satisfied with his ride to Mt Magnet.

“I’m not feeling too bad – it’s been a good day,” Smith said. “It was tough on the first stage today with water and puddles because it was hard to see the track,” he admitted.

“It’s also hard when you’re in a leading position because you’re the first through and the others follow you. I lost some time on the second stage because my stand broke, but overall it was a good. My plan is to keep surviving, be consistent and get to the end.”

His brother, Jacob, believes the competition with his brother is both friendly and competitive at the same time.

“I’m competitive with my brother, but perhaps not quite as much with the other riders,” Jacob Smith said.

“Everyone has to help each other out in this type of race. It’s only day two and I’ll keep doing what I’m doing and hope it pays off in the end.”

Twenty-six year old Roberts meanwhile, is in with a big chance of causing an upset victory on an event that he hasn’t contested for nine years.

“It’s the first time I’ve competed in the Safari since 2000 when I was a 17 year old, so I’m still absorbing it all,” Roberts said.

“I had a good run on the second stage, but I’m trying not to get too crazy. It can get scary if you are going at an incredible pace. I’m just enjoying myself, having good fun and learning lots as I go along. It’s great being in the same team as Jacob Smith as he’s helping me out a lot.”

Disaster struck defending bike champion, Ben Grabham, on the massive 244 kilometre first stage of the day when he punctured a tyre.

“I broke a spoke, which is normally a pretty minor problem, but it can cause you big problems when you’re out in the desert,” a philosophical Grabham said.

“The spoke then punctured the tyre and I was forced to take it off and ride on the rim until the end of the stage. I fixed that and just had to get on with in the second stage. These things are typical of the Safari – it’s not the end of the world and I’ll push on.”

Undeterred, Grabham then took over a minute off his rivals on the next stage as he aims to get his title defence back on track.

Quad leader Paul Smith is sticking strictly to his pre-event plan, but admits that the competitive juices are starting to flow as the event moves into its third day.

“Things are going well in terms of my strategy and I won’t change anything. The plan is to get the bike to Kalgoorlie on Saturday,” Smith said.

“I had a bit of competition in the second stage today and it was a bit tougher. Heath (Young) got in front of me so I had to go pretty hard to catch him. Then he missed a turn and I was able to get in front and he had to eat my dust. I got a bit competitive then.”

Day 3 of the Australasian Safari is the toughest so far, with four stages between Mt Magnet and Leonora. Riders and drivers face competitive distances of 122, 173, 64 and 137 kilometres respectively. The first crews will leave Mt Magnet at around 6am, and are not expected into Leonora until 3.30 in the afternoon.

In all, competitors will travel nearly 750 kilometres tomorrow, with physical fitness and vehicle reliability sure to be the determining factors in who heads the leaderboard as the event pushes towards the half-way mark.

2009 Australasian Safari – Results end of Day 2

1. Todd Smith (NSW), KTM 530 EXC, 5h04m13s
2. Jacob Smith (NSW), Honda CRF 450X, + 1m28s
3. AJ Roberts (NSW), Honda CRF 450X, +1m41s
4. Mathew Fish (VIC), KTM 530 EXC, +6m29s
5. Damien Grabham (NSW), KTM 530 EXC, +7m28s

1. Paul Smith (VIC), CAN AM Renegade 800 R X, 6h09m14s
2. Heath Young (WA), KTM XL, +6m28s
3. Josef Machacek (CZ), Yamaha Raptor, +9m34s