HONDA RIDER MAINTAINS LEAD IN SAFARI
Bathurst rider Ben Grabham has extended his advantage after the toughest day so far in this year's Australasian Safari.
Riding his factory supported Honda CRF450X, Grabham won two of the day's four stages and now leads the motorbike section by nearly 20 minutes over last year's runner-up, Yamaha's Jacob Smith.
Queenslander Rod Faggotter is in third place, but crashed on the final 160 kilometre stage, suffering facial injuries. Riding in his first Safari, Faggotter was taken to hospital, but has since been patched up and will restart tomorrow morning.
In fourth place, 37 seconds further back, is Ben Grabham's brother, Damian, with Todd Smith -- the brother of Jacob Smith -- in fifth place.
AFL legend, Tony Lockett, moved up seven positions today and now lies in 30th place.
Day three of the event saw competitors tackle four stages on a route that took them from Sandstone to Meekatharra, with a competitive distance of over 413 kilometres. Typically, there were rough and rocky sections, and some challenging navigation to keep competitors on their toes.
"Once again it was tricky to navigate, and it was the rockiest day so far," Ben Grabham said as he rode in to Meekatharra.
"I didn't see many other riders, but I did make a mistake and ended up getting passed by my brother, but he's the only one I'd let do it."
Grabham plans to ride the next few days in the same way that he's ridden the first three, and knows that on a seven-day marathon, anything can happen. He would also be happier, it seems, if he wasn't the first bike on the stages tomorrow.
"I'm just taking it day by day - anything can happen. I was hoping someone would be faster than me today, so someone else had the chance to lead tomorrow."
His brother, Damian, was happy with his day, despite some problems along the way.
"I went okay today, but got a flat (tyre) in the second stage and had to drive 70km with it. In terms of the next few days, you've just got to ride along and find your way," he said.
Auto leader, Steve Riley, was in doubt before the day's stages with engine problems, but his crew managed to get his Mitsubishi Pajero going again and he won both the day's opening stages to extend his lead to over 13 minutes.
Reg Owen had moved up to second place in his Nissan Patrol, with Swedish driver 'Pelle' Wallentheim in third place in an Isuzu VehiCross.
"It was really rough, and we spent the whole time dodging trees," Riley said. "Trying to find the track was like searching for land mines with your big toe, while having your eyes closed.
"We hit a tree and broke the windscreen, and there's not a straight panel on the car, but we're still going."
Riley's car is still losing oil after his earlier engine problems, but he's hopeful of being able to maintain his lead.
"Two days ago I thought we were out of the event, but we're still going," he added. "The tight stages suit the short wheel base of the car, so I'm happy."
South African, Vicus Vandeventer, continued to have a stranglehold on the Quad bike section, leading handsomely on his Yamaha Raptor.
Competitors face the Safari's toughest day tomorrow, with nearly 600 kilometres of stages. It starts at 6am with a monster 232 kilometre stage, which is quickly followed by another stage of over 220 kilometres in length.
The route, a loop from Meekatharra and back again, heads into the Little Sandy Desert. Once in the desert country, it ventures into spinifex encrusted sand plains, before skirting along the rough and rocky Carnarvon Ranges. It crosses very rough, tight, and twisty terrain, and follows a section of the Old Rabbit Proof Fence.
It will not be a day for the faint hearted, and all remaining crews will be intent on just making it to the end of the hardest day of Australia's toughest motorsport challenge.