Features 9 Jul 2024

Conversation: Callum Norton

Hattah 2024 winner details drama-filled race and international aspirations.

STE Racing’s Callum Norton has enjoyed a successful desert racing season in 2024, winning the weekend’s 2024 Hattah Desert Race. The 23-year-old from Mildura claimed a dramatic first-ever win in the north-west Victorian event on Sunday, just weeks after finishing runner-up at the Finke Desert Race. MotoOnline caught up with Norton for a Conversation about his breakout win and what’s on the horizon.

Image: Foremost Media

Callum, congrats on taking the win at this year’s Hattah. It must feel pretty good to get that first Senior victory at what’s now a home event for you.

Thank you. Yeah, I’ve won a couple of Junior races at Hattah, but this was my first Senior win after six attempts. I’ve had a podium and a fourth before, but this is a massive thing for me. The last two years I feel like I was so close, but had bike malfunctions when I was either in the lead or in second. With the super-stacked field this year, I thought if I could get a podium I would’ve been happy. To achieve a win feels so good, not just for me, but for the STE Racing team, which is based in Mildura.

It’s not like it came easy for you either. How were you feeling after the prologue and going into the main race?

In the first prologue run I didn’t exactly struggle, but I think I tried to ride too smoothly and the other boys really laid it on the line. I was sixth-quickest but in the top 10 shootout I hit my marks a lot better. The track was also a fair bit rougher, which suited me and I managed to improve to third. I was really impressed to see Maximus Purvis put in a flyer and qualify quickest, and Jack Simpson – who’s always really strong at Hattah – was P2. I felt it was a pretty good starting position for the race, because being first is good, but it’s a bit risky as you could be the one making mistakes or getting caught out. Having someone to chase can definitely be an advantage.

You were looking good in P3 for a few laps, but then dropped to sixth. What happened?

I had a drama on lap three where the bolt that holds the Steg Pegz into the bottom of the sub-frame snapped off inside the thread. It was dangling and swinging down against my footpeg for half a lap, so I pulled into the pits to get it sorted out. That cost me about two-and-a-half minutes and relegated me back to sixth. At the time I couldn’t believe it, but something always seems to happen at Hattah as it’s such a long race.

Two and a half minutes is a big gap to make up, but you weren’t too far behind Simpson going into the last pit-stop. When did you find out about his bike dramas?

Yeah, I was feeling good with three laps to go, so I thought ‘Stuff it, let’s dig deep and see what we can do’. I worked my way up to second with a lap to go, and going into the last pit-stop, the team said to me ‘You’re 40 seconds down, but Simpson’s bike wasn’t starting. We think it’s going again, so the gap could be closer than that’. I didn’t see him still pulled over when I went past his pit… I didn’t realise I was winning until about eight kilometres from the finish-line when I got a pit-board out the back saying ‘P1. Push hard’. Even then I didn’t know whether to trust it or not! Literally with one turn to go, I looked up and saw the ‘Last Lap’ board for the lapper in front of me, then the checkers came out for me, and I was like ‘Wow, I must’ve actually won [laughs]!

Image: Foremost Media.

That’s wild! It’s been a pretty successful 2024 for you so far with a runner-up at Finke and a win at Hattah. You’ve got to be happy with what you’ve achieved so far…

I’m definitely stoked. We put a lot of time and effort into Finke to try and win it this year, but I was happy to finish second and walk away healthy as it’s such a gnarly race. And to finish second to my good mate David Walsh, who’s now won five in a row, was pretty cool. Then to win Hattah, yeah, it’s been a really good year for me so far. We’ll probably do a couple more events or I might try and sneak overseas for some desert events hopefully, and try to keep plugging away.

What are you looking at overseas?

I’m currently in talks to do the Baja 1000 in November. Nothing is signed or sealed yet, but there’s a chance of doing that, and I’ve been doing a bit of rally bike testing over the year to try and keep a foot in the door in that space too. There aren’t any teams confirmed or anything, but I’m trying to learn the game as much as I can, so if an opportunity comes up, I’ll be ready to jump at it. If I don’t go overseas, I’m keen to do the Don River Dash in September and the Kalgoorlie Desert Race in October, and maybe a few off-road races as well. I’ve raced the MX Nationals and the Australian Off-Road Championship in the past, but I love the desert stuff – anything that’s fast, gnarly and sandy, I’m all for it.