Price headlines KTM's 2014 Hattah Desert Race assault.
With wins in the high-profile Finke Desert Race and the first round of the Tri-Series in its first month of operation, the KTM Desert Racing Team has its sights set on another podium appearance at the famous KTM Hattah Desert Race near Mildura this weekend.
The race poses a unique and significant challenge – eight laps of a 38-kilometre course which de-evolves from high-speed, sandy highway into super-sized whooped-out motocross track over approximately four hours.
Leading the charge will be 2012 champion Toby Price, the Finke and Kumarina 500 winner who is in sublime form, having recovered from last year’s neck injury, and will ride one of the team’s KTM 500 EXC desert weapons.
“I think it’s going to be a bit of a dry dusty one but we’ll wait and see what the weekend brings,” Price said. “The first couple of laps is what you like the most, but by the end when it’s beat up and rough you just want to get off it. It’s just a good atmosphere and fun and to be out there on the track for four hours is a good challenge with good competition so we’re looking forward to it.
“The first couple of laps it’s like a highway, but being a sand track it gets beaten up and turns into a motocross track on steroids. By the end there are bits where you can time things so it’s fun. You’ve got to make sure you keep your head in the game, you’re dealing with a few lappers, and trying to preserve your bike as well because with four hours in sand, they definitely cop a flogging.”
Last Saturday’s overnight race leader Ivan Long will also race for the top prize, alongside WA motocross ace Louis Calvin, occupying the seat left vacant by team manager Ben Grabham, whose recurring hand injury is causing the former Hattah winner plenty of grief.
“I’ve been having carpal tunnel symptoms in my hand since Finke with numbness and loss of strength, and this is the type of race where, unless I’m 100 percent fit it’s probably a bit silly to race, so I’ll just spend my weekend making sure the boys are sorted,” Grabham said. “If I was in a championship and needed the points I’d probably soldier on, but that’s not the case here.
“This is a massive race for us and I’ll probably be busier than ever doing other stuff anyway. We’re coming off a big win from last weekend and we’ve got Louis Calvin, super-fast young motocross kid from WA over to fill in.”
Said Calvin: “I’m pretty excited to be here with the team, it was a good opportunity and I couldn’t pass it up. It’s all good fun and they’re helping out heaps. I went out riding yesterday and today and I’m feeling good. I’ve never been out here before so I’m looking forward to the experience.
“I know it’ll start off smooth and then get rough – it’s going to be a long day, but it sounds fun. The high speeds are the biggest challenge and I’m trying to get my head around it now but hopefully by the weekend I’ll be able to be on par with some guys up the front.”
KTM Enduro Racing Team rider Peter Boyle knows Hattah like the back of his hand, and last year’s Hattah podium finisher has swapped his 250 AORC bike for a KTM 500 EXC for 2014.
Another Hattah veteran is in fact, among the youngest in the KTM stable, with five-time Hattah junior winner and more recently Finke 250cc four-stroke class winner Wayde Carter graduating to the senior ranks aboard a KTM 450 EXC.