DAY 1 REPORT: Alice Springs-Ross River-Alice Springs.
Total distance: 329km. Competitive distance: 242km (4 stages)


NSW drivers Ross Nicastri and Terry Denham tied for first place in aggregate times in today's opening four stages of the Auto Division of the Vodafone Australian Safari international cross country rally in the Northern Territory.

Nicastri, driving a Nissan Patrol with navigator Steve Green, recorded an overall time of 3-hrs 5mins 56-secs over the 242km competitive distance from Alice Springs to Ross River and back. Denham and son and co-driver Michael Denham clocked an identical time in their Mitsubishi Pajero.

They finished 4-mins and 25-secs clear of defending champion Bruce Garland of NSW, who celebrated his 42nd birthday today, and Harry Suzuki in a Holden Jackaroo.

Nicastri escaped with minor damage to the exhaust of his Nissan after driving into a rock-laced gully during the return trip from Ross River to Alice Springs. He had been leading the division for four-wheel-drive vehicles until the incident.

Garland's start to his bid for a record third Safari win was hampered when he was forced to slow when trailing another competitor.

"I was stuck behind a quad for about 20km - there were times I had to stop because I couldn't see through the dust," he said. "That cost us some time, and I didn't help things by missing a turn in the outward trip to Ross River."

Victorian Reg Owen struck problems after 18km when his Nissan Patrol stopped with ignition trouble. His vehicle was towed back to Alice Springs for repairs. The Subaru Forrester of Canadian Elisabeth Grantz and Japan's Reiko Yamamura was also towed back to Alice Springs when the left-rear wheel strut broke.

South Australian Andrew Caldecott dominated the Moto Division on a KTM 660 Rallye, establishing a massive lead of 15-mins 53-secs. The 36-year-old led every stage and had an overall time of 2-hrs 59-mins 23-secs. His result was a repeat of his victory on the opening day of the 1999 Safari, which he was eventually forced to withdraw from after suffering a shoulder injury.

American Casey McCoy made an impressive Safari debut by finishing second on a Honda XR400, and was followed by South Australian Tony Tervoert on a Husqvarna and West Australian Rob Pollard on a KTM.

"The course was fast and fun," said McCoy. "We possibly lacked a little speed on the first part while I was getting used to the conditions, but I felt better when the terrain was rocky because that's what I'm more used to."

The leading Northern Territory rider was Daniel Auricht on a Yamaha TTR250 in fifth place, one position ahead of former 500cc world champion Kevin Schwantz. The 35-year-old Texan had a steady cross country rally debut with a time of 3-hrs 36-mins 24-secs, finishing 46-secs clear of 17-year-old Darwin rider Anthony Roberts on a Honda XR400.

Tomorrow the Safari continues with three stages of competitive racing over 468km from Alice Springs to Curtin Springs.

The Safari is promoted by Octagon Motorsport and is backed by the Northern Territory Government.


AUTO DIVISION: POS DRIVERS VEHICLE TIME 1. R. Nicastri (NSW)-S. Green (NSW) Nissan Patrol 3:05.56 T. Denham (NSW)-M. Denham (NSW) Mitsubishi Pajero 3:05.56 3. B. Garland (NSW)-H. Suzuki (NSW) Holden Jackaroo 3:10.21 4. P. Glennie (NSW)-M. Roberts (NSW) Toyota Landcruiser 3:17.01 5. D. Harringon (Vic)-G. Taylor (NSW) Nissan Patrol Ute 3:18.30 6. P. Lockhart (Qld)-T. Donovan (Qld) Holden Jackaroo 3:24.49 7. M. Owen (Vic)-M. Owen (Vic) Cougar Buggy 3:25.30 8. R. Gambino (NSW)-D. Lowe (NSW) Suzuki Grand Vitara 3:29.48 9. T. Pinson (NSW)-R. Lewis (NSW) Mitsubishi Pajero 3:32.06 10. A. Stott (Vic)-T. Connor (Vic) Nissan Patrol 3:32.09

MOTO DIVISION: POS RIDER MOTORCYCLE TIME 1. A. Caldecott (SA) KTM 660 Rallye 2:59.23 2. C. McCoy (U.S.) Honda XR400 3:15.16 3. T. Tervoert (SA) Husqvarna TE610E 3:17.45 4. R. Pollard (WA) KTM 640 Adventure 3:20.07 5. D. Auricht (NT) Yamaha TTR250 3:23.22 6. K. Schwantz (U.S.) Suzuki DR-Z400 3:26.34 7. A. Roberts (NT) Honda XR400 3:27.20 8. S. Blackney (GB) KTM 660 Rallye 3:27.50 9. T. Kirby (NSW) Suzuki DR-Z400 3:31.05 10. K. Iwasaki (Japan) Honda XR650 3:34.41