FRIDAY, AUGUST 23: South African motorcycle star Alfie Cox has arrived in Bathurst and today declared himself ready to attack whatever the NSW outback and Australia's best off-road riders can throw at him over the next nine days.
Cox, runner-up in this year's Paris-Dakar rally, will start favourite in the Moto Division of the 4,375km Australian Safari international cross country rally from tomorrow until September 1, riding a Red Bull KTM 660 Rallye.
The 39-year-old from Durban said he was relishing the challenge of competing on unfamiliar terrain and taking on past Safari champions Andy Caldecott and Andy Haydon of South Australia, both riding KTMs, and Honda-mounted Stephen Greenfield, from Alice Springs.
Cox said he was race-ready after competing in three separate off-road championships in South Africa since the Paris-Dakar rally in January, and the Federation Internationale Motocycliste (FIM) Cross Country Rallies World Cup round in Tunisia.
"I'm fortunate to have the opportunity to race in many parts of the world, so adapting to new conditions is something I'm used to," he said.
"The Safari will be tough, but the 'Dakar' is 21 days of human torture where you sometimes ride in 50-degree heat through deserts so that teaches you to put up with almost anything."
However, Cox conceded he was wary of reports about herds of kangaroos and emus wandering around the drought-stricken areas of the Safari course and the dangers they may present to competitors.
"If what we are hearing is true then we will all have to be careful," said Cox.
Safari Clerk of Course Bob Carpenter said today he would explain the wildlife situation in tomorrow's official competitors briefing for the 70 entrants in the motorcycle and four-wheel-drive vehicles divisions of the rally, which is promoted by global sports and event marketing company Octagon.
Cox said he had a high regard for the leading Australian riders, especially Haydon, who he competed against in the 1998 Paris-Dakar rally.
"Andy (Haydon) and the other guys will provide some very strong competition and I think we're all going to have a close battle," he said. "I've come to win and I'm sure the others feel the same."
The Safari starts and finishes in Bathurst and includes overnight stops in Condobolin, Griffith, Wentworth, Broken Hill, Cobar, and Dubbo.
Cox's machine was sent to Australia for the Safari from KTM's factory in Austria and features three-way damping in the rear shock-absorber. KTM's Austrian-based Australian engineer Lee Palmer is accompanying Cox on the Safari to oversee the project.
"This is the same bike I rode in the 'Dakar', but it has had a complete overhaul and an engine rebuild," said Cox. "It has a narrow tank configuration and a low centre of gravity, with the fuel positioned in the centre of the motorcycle."
"I think we will probably run with a soft-compound (Michelin) tyre because we're not expecting conditions to be as harsh on the rear as in the 'Dakar' where the sand it thick and hot."
Cox said his future career goal was to win the Paris-Dakar, after finishing in the top five four times in the past five years.
"When you finish the 'Dakar' you always promise yourself never to come back because it's so hard, but then two weeks later you start planning for the next one," said Cox.
"They have these 'Marathon' stages where you have to get up at 10pm and ride 400km until 4am. You go to sleep beside the bike in your riding kit for maybe three hours, and then you start racing again."
"It goes on like this for day after day. It's more like military training and only the strong survive, but that's why it is the ultimate test."
Entries in the Safari's Auto Division include four-times winner Bruce Garland, driving a modified Holden Rally Team Jackaroo. Others in the team are nine-times Bathurst 1000 champion Peter Brock and part-time V8 Supercar driver Nathan Pretty in production Jackaroos. Their main competition is expected to come from NSW's Terry Denham and Victorian Steve Riley in Mitsubishi Pajeros.
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