The country's toughest motoring challenge, the Australasian Safari, has returned to the outback for the second running of the event through the diverse Western Australian countryside.
With the support of the Western Australian Government, this year's Australasian Safari starts in the gold mining city of Kalgoorlie with a promotional start this afternoon, before the competitive action gets under way tomorrow morning (August 24) at 6am.
After the gala start, competitors face over 2675k kilometres of competitive stages through remote areas of Western Australia, such as Sandstone, Meekatharra, Mt Magnet and Geraldton, before finishing in the state's capital, Perth, on Saturday, August 30. The event's overall distance is more than 4400km.
For the first time in the event's 21 year history, four-wheeled quad bikes will have their own division, as they join motorcycles and cars in the event. This has not only opened the event up to more competitors, but has also stimulated more media interest in the Safari.
One of the unique aspects about an event like the Australasian Safari is that it allows both two- and four-wheeled vehicles to compete together.
However, while all vehicles in the rally will compete over the same course, they will, essentially, only be racing against vehicles in their category or class. Quad bikes, for example, aren't pitted against the two-wheeled motorbikes in the overall standings.
HOW IT WORKS
The Australasian Safari is timed just like any other rally. Entrants start each competitive section at pre determined intervals and are racing against the clock, rather than racing directly against other competitors.
They are timed from when they leave the start control until when they cross the finish line of that competitive section. Times from all sections are added up, and at the end of the event, the competitor who has covered the entire course in the least amount of time is declared the winner.
Competitive sections are interspersed with liaison or 'road' sections, which are travelled at normal road speeds. These sections are used to join the competitive sections, often through towns and villages along the way.
FINDING THEIR WAY
The Western Australian outback can be a dry and barren place, with a seemingly never-ending horizon, which makes it a real challenge for competitors just to find their way.
To help them navigate the course, competitors are issued with route instructions that give them exact directions of how far they need to travel and where they need to turn. The instructions also warn crews of any hazards along the way, such as creek crossings, gates, rough sections and the like.
As the four-wheeled vehicles carry a navigator, or co-driver, their instructions are in book form, however for the single occupant motorbikes and quads, the instructions are a little more challenging.
To make things easier, Worldwide Online Printing have worked with the organisers to produce a continuous print scroll of the instructions is supplied to all bike crews. The instructions are housed in a special scroll on the handlebars, allowing riders to read the directions, and advance the scroll forward, as they traverse the course.
WHERE DO THEY SLEEP?
As you'd expect, the Australasian Safari covers some pretty remote country, but with an event that covers seven days, competitors -- and officials -- need to sleep somewhere.
To make things easier, the overnight stops are in towns such as Sandstone, Meekatharra, Mt Magnet and Geraldton, and while most of the competitors camp out, others treat themselves to the extra luxury of motel accommodation.
But while the drivers and riders rest up, their hard working service crews don't usually have it so easy. Having travelled a similar distance during the day to the competitors, the service crews then have to get to work refuelling, and often rebuilding the cars, bikes and quads.
It's the hard-working service crews who are the unsung heroes of the Australasian Safari, and who can, more often than not, be the difference between who wins and who loses.
ROUGH AND RUGGED
As the toughest rally on the Australian calendar, the wear and tear on vehicles is unrelenting. The vehicles can have all sorts of mechanical issues along the way -- any of which could put them out of the rally.
Fortunately, there are rules in place to keep as many competitors as possible in the event. A vehicle that retires from any day of the Safari can rejoin the event at a later stage, and while this ultimately rules them out of outright contention, it keeps them in the rally.
For the select few, winning the Australalsian Safari is their ultimate goal. But for most, just finishing is as good as a victory. And that's what keeps competitors coming back year after year.
THE SAFARI COURSE
The Australasian Safari covers plenty of country, and not unexpectedly, it uses both privately owned and public land in the outback of WA.
According to Event Director, Justin Hunt, the Safari has continued to receive excellent support from landowners, and this year's course promises to be just as demanding as in previous years.
"We use the roughest and toughest tracks available to us, not commercial grade or "working / farm" roads," Hunt stresses.
"As in other years, the winner of the Australasian Safari -- and everyone who competes, for that matter -- will know that they've been in Australia's toughest motorsport challenge."