TOP FIELD GATHERED FOR AUSTRALASIAN SFARI
Eighty cars, motorbikes and quad bikes will leave Kalgoorlie this Sunday in Australia's toughest motorsport challenge, the 2008 Australasian Safari.
Ahead of them awaits seven days and over 2700 kilometre of competitive stages on a route that takes them deep into the Western Australian outback. While the exact course remains a secret, it will take the competitors over desert roads and farm tracks from Kalgoorlie to Perth, via Sandstone, Meekatharra, Mount Magnet and Geraldton.
Promoted by Octagon, and with the support of Eventscorp Western Australia, the Australasian Safari is often referred to as "Australia's answer to the Dakar Rally".
Day one of the event loops out of Kalgoorlie. Some long stages on day two sees the Safari field overnight in Sandstone (August 25). The event finishes days three (August 26) and four (August 27) with overnight stops in Meekatharra, before stopping at Mt Magnet (August 28) and Geraldton (August 29).
The event then heads south to Perth, where exhausted competitors will celebrate at the podium finish in Forrest Place, in the centre of the city on August 30.
2007 Auto division winner, John Hederics, and Moto division winner, Ben Grabham, both return to defend their titles, while AFL legend, Tony Lockett, will make his Safari debut, riding a Honda CRF450X.
In 2008 there are three divisions - Auto, Moto and Quads - in the Safari, all of which will be hotly contested.
Multiple Safari winner, John Hederics, will start as an almost unbackable favourite in the Auto division after dominating last year's event. Driving for the PWR Holden Racing Team, Hederics will drive a new Holden Colorado and will be chasing his tenth victory.
Although his Colorado is his 2007-winning Rodeo, rebuilt for this year's event, Hederics is expected to set the pace.
"We had a great package last year, and I think we've improved on that for this year's event," Hederics said. "We've also played around with the suspension and refined the car, so we're confident of doing well."
"But as I keep saying to people, off-road rallying is a totally mechanical sport, and any one of a thousand small parts could let you down at the worst possible time, and cost you victory."
Hot on his heels will be last year's second and fourth place getters, Reg Owen (Nissan Patrol) and Geoff Olholm (Mitsubishi Pajero), both of whom will be eager to improve on their placings from last year. Throw into the mix Safari veteran Peter Glennie in a Toyota Landcruiser, and the Auto division will be a real mix of manufacturers, all vying for a podium place.
Another driver that all competitors will be keeping an eye on is veteran Bruce Garland. Driving an Isuzu DMAX, Garland is using the event as a test for next year's Dakar Rally, and the New South Welshman is confident of mixing it with the best.
Three overseas drivers will test their mettle against the tough Western Australian outback, with Dakar regular Paul Green most likely to challenge for victory. Green, from the UK, will drive a Desert Warrior, and his rally raid experience will give him a substantial advantage.
Sweden's Par "Pelle" Wallentheim and New Zealand woman, Sarah Twaddle, have also entered, and are expected to perform well.
Circuit racer, Tony Quinn, is another driver to watch, and while his lack of Safari experience will count against him, Quinn is a veteran of many forms of motorsport and should adapt quickly and easily to the outback conditions.
In the Moto division for two-wheel motorbikes, five of the top six finishers in last year's Safari will battle it out for honours in 2008, including reigning champion, Ben Grabham. Honda, Yamaha, KTM, Suzuki and Husaberg are all represented, and it's sure to be a full-on race right from the very first day.
Grabham has been the star rider for the past 12 months, and beating him won't be easy.
"We've been testing with last year's bike, and making some improvements to that as we go along. In 2007 we only finished the bike two weeks before the race, so hopefully we'll be a little better prepared this year," he said.
That's not good news for his rivals, but Jacob Smith, perhaps Grabham's biggest threat, believes he can go one place better than his second in 2007, having recovered from a broken collarbone and leg.
"I've got a lot of confidence from finishing second last year, and I'm definitely entering this year's Safari with the goal of winning. Our bikes will be a lot better this year, I have the mental toughness to last the distance, and my fitness will be okay, so we're hopeful of a victory in 2008," he said.
Matthew Fish, Andrew Coaker and David Schwarz will also be pushing for victory, as will Grabham's brother, Damian, and Jacob Smith's brother, Todd.
Three overseas riders will join the seven day battle. Marcel Petrig (Switzerland), Mikael Berglund (Sweden) and Yasuyuki Ohno (Japan) will not only have to battle their own fitness and that of their bikes, but also the dry, hot and dusty West Australian outback.
The biggest media interest in the Australasian Safari is sure to centre around AFL great Tony Lockett. The former St. Kilda and Sydney Swans player, who has kicked more goals than any other AFL player, will take on what is, perhaps, the biggest challenge of his life.
Riding a Honda CRF450X, Lockett had a shakedown at the Finke Desert Race in June, and while he's not expected to challenge for a podium place, both Lockett and his team are confident that he'll put in a respectable performance. Reaching the finish in Perth after seven tough days will be his goal.
For the first time, Quad Bikes will have their own division in the Australasian Safari, with the strong Can Am team entering two Renegade X quads for Paul Smith and Darrell Knight.
South African Vicus Vanderventer makes his Safari debut and will be difficult to beat, as will South Australian John Maragozidis on a Polaris Outlaw.
The Quads will follow the same course as the Auto and Moto divisions, and there will be plenty of interest in what sort of speed the four-wheeled machines can maintain over the duration of the event.
AUSTRALASIAN SAFARI FACTS AND FIGURES
The Australasian Safari travels from Kalgoorlie to Perth through historic WA towns in the Goldfields and Coral coast including Sandstone, Meekatharra, Mt Magnet and Geraldton
The total distance travelled by each competition vehicle is 4400km
There are 2700 total "race" or competitive kilometres covered. The course for the next day is not revealed until the night before.
3 Satellite dishes
36 Satellite phones
2 Semi trailers (toilets and showers)
2 equipment vans
2 Campervans (HQ and Safari Base)
1 medical equipment truck
And one large inflatable arch
More than 4000 meals prepared
Approximately 70 formal land use approvals required
17 person medical crew
85 event officials
5 representatives from the Motorsport Authorities
About 450 people travelling with the event -- support crew, family and friends
TV Production Crew