THURSDAY, JUNE 1: Dubai-based Briton Steve Blackney today joined former 500cc world champion Kevin Schwantz among the high-profile overseas motorcycle riders confirmed to race in this year's 5,000km Australian Safari international cross-country rally.
Blackney is a seven-times Middle East Open Motocross Championship winner and has raced in the prestigious United Arab Emirates (UAE) Desert Challenge in the past three years, with a best result of 10th in 1997.
The 29-year-old from Cornwall, who has been based in Dubai since 1981, will ride a KTM 660 in the Moto Division of the Safari from August 20-27 through the Northern Territory.
Blackney said that despite his international record in endurance racing he would face a difficult challenge in the Safari mastering unfamiliar terrain on the course from Alice Springs to Darwin.
"Most of my racing has been on sand in the desert, so the Safari will be different to anything I've done before and that's appeals to me," said Blackney.
"I'm told the (Safari) course is a mixture of bush, scrub, mountains, and even crossing water, which I can't ever remember doing before in a race."
"There is some hard-packed terrain near Dubai which I'm riding on as much as I can to simulate Australian conditions and prepare for the Safari, as well doing as my usual fitness work."
Blackney's support crew for the Safari, which is sanctioned by the world controlling Federation Internationale Motocycliste (FIM), will include British engine tuner Steve Morris and Australian mechanic Kevin Fisher.
Morris was part of Blackney's crew in the UAE Desert Challenge the past two years, and Fisher worked with teams in previous Safari events.
"Steve (Morris) is one of those guys who will work through the night to keep the bike going in a race like this, and Kevin (Fisher) has the experience of local conditions which is important," said Blackney.
"We have a new bike and a good team so we are doing everything possible to be successful. The KTM is a good combination of performance and reliability so we have high hopes of doing well."
Blackney, who is employed by a shipping agency and works on oil tankers in the Arabian Gulf, said he expected strong opposition in the Safari from leading Australian riders, and 1993 world champion Schwantz, who will make his cross country rally debut in the event on a Suzuki DR-Z400.
"Australians are competitive in all forms of motorcycle racing around the world, so I'd expect them to be very good in their own backyard, and Kevin Schwantz is one of the biggest names in the sport," said Blackney.
Blackney's Safari assault is being assisted by McLeod Accessories for Pirelli tyres.
His past motorcycle competition experience also includes road racing in the annual Isle of Man Tourist Trophy event, and immediately after the Safari he will head for Victoria to ride on the Phillip Island circuit, venue for the Australian Grand Prix.
The Safari is promoted by Octagon Motorsport and has three-year backing from the Northern Territory Government. The event is for motorcycles and four-wheel-drive vehicles, and is also sanctioned by the Federation Internationale de l'Automobile, in addition to the FIM.