GRABHAM TAKES LEAD IN SAFARI TITLE DEFENCE
Reigning motorbike champion, Ben Grabham, got his Australasian Safari title defence off to a great start, creating a buffer of almost three minutes over his nearest rival after Leg One of the 2008 event.
On a day that saw the field tackle nearly 300 kilometres in the Western Australian outback, on a loop of three stages from the gold mining city of Kalgoorlie, Grabham (Honda) established his lead on the opening test and was never headed.
Despite beating Grabham across the next two stages, second placed Shane Diener (Kawasaki) finished the day in second place, two minutes and 58 seconds from the lead.
In third place on the bikes was 2007 runner-up Jacob Smith, riding a Yamaha, but already the Condobolin rider is over 10 minutes off the pace.
AFL legend, Tony Lockett, finished the day in 39th place from a field of 51 starters, after a consistent day which saw him move up the leaderboard as the day progressed.
In the Auto division, the defending champion, John Hederics, has already been forced to withdraw after rolling his Holden Colorado on the very first stage. Structural damage to the safety roll cage forced his retirement.
That gave Victorian Steve Riley the chance to take the lead in a Mitsubishi Pajero, and despite a number of problems, he finished the day nearly 12 minutes clear of the next best car.
In second place is Reg Owen, with Des Harrington third, another minute back.
South African, Vicus Vandeventer, dominated the first day among Quad bike riders, setting a hot pace on his Yamaha Raptor.
While Grabham was delighted with his opening day, he knows that there are many challenges ahead as the course makes its way to Perth over the next six days.
"I didn't do anything special, just rode around and tried to follow the maps. It's pretty tough out there -- I don't know if people complained last year that the navigating was easy, because it's ten times harder this year. There are a lot of spots were I think you could easily get lost," Grabham said.
"I think maybe I got a little bit of a buffer in the first stage over the riders behind me, because I pretty much spent the day by myself.
While a long way from the lead, Lockett was happy to finish the first day of Australia's toughest motorsport challenge.
"I had a good day. It was everything that I expected and probably a little bit more," the ALF goal kicking record holder said.
"It was a tough day with a lot of dust early on in the morning. It took a little while to get the maps under control, but after that the second and third competitive stages were pretty good. The track was good, but every day will probably get a little bit harder and harder, but I'm ready to go tomorrow."
Auto division leader, Steve Riley, holds a handy lead, but his day wasn't without problems.
"After starting 16th at the start, we had a lot of trouble passing cars during the day," he said.
"We got lost for four or five kilometres on the final stage and had to back-track, and the car was overheating for the last few kilometres, but hopefully we haven't damaged the engine and it will be okay tomorrow."
2007 winner, John Hederics, was disappointed with his early retirement.
"I still can't believe it -- I'm stunned by what happened. We were well in control and came up to a clay pan. We were first car on the road and following some bikes," Hederics explained. "One of the mogul mounds kicked the back of the car up, and then another one just got the front left and over we went. It was as simple as that."