News 10 Jul 2012

Off-Road Observer: 27

Alex Gobert focuses on the world of off-road, presented by Yamaha's 2012 WR450F.

There’s something about desert racing that has really taken off in recent years. Between the Finke and Hattah, the months of June and July are all about these massive one-off events.

Factory participation is high, preparation is key and the riders that are lining up for these events in a bid to do well are taking them more serious than ever before. In some ways, desert racing in Australia is becoming a very, very serious profession.

KTM, with assistance from HSE, has been really focused on this side of racing and Ben Grabham was a full time desert contender this year before his shattering injuries saw him sidelined. No more was he an AORC rider, he was a desert racer – an extraordinaire of sorts.

Toby Price has been the man for the HSE-backed KTM squad during recent desert races. Image: 404 Shots.

And with Grabbo’s accomplishments in these types of events, it was only fitting to see him step up and become the country’s first true desert professional as part of a major team. Others have of course taken desert events seriously in the past, but KTM recognised the importance of all events (not just the main ones) and made it happen in 2012.

So with Grabbo out, Toby Price all of a sudden became the focus for KTM at Finke and Hattah. No doubt he was already a favourite for these races alongside Ben, but instead he entered as the lone pre-race hero in some ways.

Last weekend at Hattah he claimed a hat trick and absolutely dominated. Nobody could get near him and he admits that it’s a situation that does provide plenty of pressure – even if he does seem untouchable in some ways.

But we can’t forget the ‘other guys’ who made their marks at Hattah. AJ Roberts’ all-new Active8 Yamaha Yamalube Racing team has been outstanding in the desert, claiming the two minor podium placings behind Price at Hattah.

Josh Green proved his might on a YZ450F after usually racing a 250F in the AORC, finishing runner-up and impressing everybody along the way. Roberts also stood up to the tough task of being racer/manager and scored a well-deserved podium at Hattah.

AJ Roberts and his Yamaha team had a strong weekend at Hattah. Image: 404 Shots.

AJ’s serious about this team, he’s methodical in his approach and deserves the success they are having. As a multiple-time national champion he is well credentialed, but taking on the role of team manager with fellow top riders on his side is a whole new challenge in itself.

Speaking of team managers who can still twist the throttle in style, just take a look at Motorex KTM Off Road Racing boss Brad Williscroft. He was seventh at Hattah, picking up the win in the Over 35s. Wonka’s a guy who has so much respect in the off-road ranks and deserves every bit of it.

The Hattah Desert Race is one that I’ve personally never made it to, but after speaking to Price earlier today, it looks as though my time has come to try and check it out in the next year or so. Between it and the Finke, we have two very special races on our hands here in Australia.