The gruelling 3600 kilometre course of the Australasian Safari has started to take its toll on riders and drivers as day four of the seven day marathon took competitors from Leonora to Laverton in outback Western Australia.
Honda’s Jacob Smith has increased his advantage in the motorbike section of the event to over 20 minutes after his teammate, Anthony ‘AJ’ Roberts, crashed heavily and dislocated his shoulder on the second stage of the day.
On the quad bikes, Czech Republic’s Josef Machacek continues to lead the way with a 14 minute advantage over Western Australian rider Heath Young on a KTM.
While the Dakar winner is mastering the local conditions, the other three members of his Czech team are struggling to come to terms with the treacherous terrain. Third placed Martin Plechaty may be forced to withdraw before the start of day five with mechanical problems.
Today saw the field cover 301 competitive kilometres as the event passed its half-way mark. Western Australia’s spectacular outback scenery played a prominent role today with some magnificent views, although riders had little time to take their eyes off the road.
The battle for the top bike honours has turned into a purely local affair with the internationals unable to match the pace of their home grown rivals.
With only 10 seconds separating the GHR Honda teammates Jacob Smith and AJ Roberts overnight, the Condobolin rider was hoping to keep his Queensland rival at bay. Roberts dropped a further 19 seconds on the day’s first stage, but on the 204 kilometre second test came off his bike, injuring his shoulder and giving Smith some breathing space.
This also enabled Smith’s brother, Todd, riding a KTM 530 EXC, to move into second place, well clear of the hard charging third placed man, Ben Grabham, on another KTM.
“When I saw the results, I’d done better than I thought I would have,” Jacob Smith said. “I had a pretty good run today, but made a little navigational error on one stage, but didn’t lose much time.
“The second stage was very tough and very rough, it was really easy to hurt yourself on a track that wasn’t very well defined.”
His brother, Todd, had bike problems, but was glad to finish the day relatively unscathed.
“I had a few bike troubles today, with a muffler that fell to bits and carburettor problems, so I wasn’t getting enough top speed,” he said.
“But I’m still here and in once piece. I was completely shattered after losing my chain and dropping time yesterday, but today has been much better.”
Grabham, the winner of the previous two Safaris, dropped over an hour on the second day when he punctured a rear tyre and fell to 24th place. Since then he’s been consistently setting top two stage times, but with a gap of over 51 minutes still to bridge, he’ll need the Smith brothers to strike problems if he’s to take his third consecutive victory.
However, he still sees himself in with a winning chance.
“I led all the way today on stages that were tough and difficult to navigate,” Grabham said. “I never gave up when I had problems and got behind on the second day – I just keep looking straight ahead and trying to make up for lost time.
“Each day I’ve moved up places, and I plan to continue to do that,” he added.
New South Wales riders hold the top four positions in the bikes, with Tim Vandenberg fourth, followed by the leading West Australian rider, Ivan Erceg, on another KTM.
Five-times Dakar Rally quad bike winner, Josef Machacek, is still the man to catch in the quads after a relatively troublefree day on his Yamaha Raptor.
Western Australian rider, Heath Young, was slowed by clutch problems on his KTM today, but has moved up to second place. If his troubles can be rectified, he stands a real chance of moving into the top spot over the final three days of the event.
Another Czech Republic rider, Martin Plechaty, may be forced to retire from his current third place.
Plechaty doesn’t speak any English, but on arriving at the Laverton rest halt, he pointed at his bike and said “kaput”, indicating that his machine was on its last legs.
That gives Victorian Paul Smith a big chance to move into third place on his CAN AM, although he still trails the category leader by over 53 minutes.
“I had more tyre problems today, but nothing like yesterday,” Smith said. “Today I just had to stop and pump them up.
“It was a demanding course with pretty hard navigation, but it was quite enjoyable just the same.”
Day five is one of the most difficult of the event, with three stages covering over 460 competitive kilometres, including a trip through the Great Victoria Desert, with plenty of sand dunes to negotiate. Rough and rugged road conditions are guaranteed for much of the day, so it will once again be a real survival of the fittest.
Australasian Safari Results after Day Four
1 Jacob SMITH (NSW), Honda CRF 450 X, 12h 19m 46s
2 Todd SMITH (NSW), KTM 530 EXC, +20m 33s
3 Ben GRABHAM (NSW), KTM 530 EXC, +51m 19s
4 Tim VANDENBERG (NSW), KTM 530 EXC, +1h 07m 29s
5 Ivan ERCEG (WA), KTM 450 EXC, +1h 16m 53s
1 Josef MACHACEK (CZ), Yamaha Raptor, 15h 55m 32s
2 Heath YOUNG (WA), KTM XL, +14m 53s
3 Martin PLECHATY (CZ), Borile Bory FM 700 R, +41m 18s
4 Paul SMITH (VIC), CAN AM Renegade 800 R X, +53m 34s