MONDAY, AUGUST 7: Defending champion Bruce Garland (Auto Division) and South Australian rider Andrew Caldecott (Moto Division) were today announced as the top seeds for this month's Australian Safari international cross-country rally.
Safari Competition Director and Clerk of Course Bob Carpenter said the seedings determined starting positions for the opening stage of the event through the Northern Territory, with competitors starting at one-minute intervals led by the Moto Division riders, followed by the Auto Division vehicles.
Garland, who is currently overseas racing in the Silverstate 4x4 Asian Rally, won the Safari's Auto Division title in 1996 and again 12 months ago, and will compete in this year's event from August 20-27 in a Holden Jackaroo with co-driver Harry Suzuki.
Caldecott, 36, made his Safari debut in 1999 and led the Moto Division after four days until being forced to withdraw because of shoulder injuries suffered when he crashed the KTM 660 Rallye he will ride again in this year's event from Alice Springs to Darwin.
This year's Safari has attracted 24 teams in the Auto Division in mostly four-wheel-drive vehicles, and 35 motorcycle riders, including 15 from Japan, plus former 500cc world champion Kevin Schwantz. They will compete over 24 stages on a course totalling 4,067km, of which 2,422km is competitive.
Sydney-based Garland, scheduled to return to Australia from Asia on August 17, said he hoped securing the No 1 seeding would prove a good omen for his bid to become the first three-times winner of the Safari since it's inception in 1985.
"We're starting in the No 1 position and if we can stay there all the way to Darwin it would be fantastic," said Garland. "It's going to be tough, but we know what to expect. Our whole racing program is geared around doing well in the Safari because it's the one we all want to win. This year we've done several lead-up races, both in Australia and overseas, so our team is well prepared."
Garland's 2000 schedule included racing in the Condobolin 750 in NSW in April, which he won, the Finke Desert Race in the Northern Territory in June, the Nevada 2000 in the United States in July, and the nine-day Asian event this month.
The father-and-son combination of Terry and Michael Denham is seeded second in the Auto Division in a Mitsubishi Pajero, followed by fellow-NSW pair Ross Nicastri and Steve Green in the Nissan Patrol that John Hederics and Kees Weel raced to second place in the 1999 Safari.
The top three seeds are all competing in 'Group A5' for modified cross-country and CAMS Class vehicles. There are five 'Group' categories in the Auto Division, each with separate classes.
Caldecott, a former 'Mr Motocross' series rider in the 1980s, said being selected as top seed would help him in his bid to atone for his disappointing exit from the 1999 Safari.
"Starting first is a bonus because you don't have to deal with the dust that can cause problems when you're behind other riders," said Caldecott. "I'm keen to do well because we were in great shape in last year's Safari until I crashed. The front wheel collapsed and when I fell tendons were torn off the bone on my right shoulder. I had to have a reconstruction and it took a long time to recover."
Caldecott made his comeback in the Finke Desert Race two months ago, and was delighted with finishing seventh outright.
"I struggled physically because my upper body strength wasn't back to 100-percent, but I've improved since then and I've been doing some motocross racing to keep working on my fitness," he said. "I've raced on-and-off for almost 20 years and the Safari is the best event I've been in. You can't make predictions because anything can happen."
American Schwantz, who won the 500cc world championship in 1993 before the five-year reign of Australia's Michael Doohan, is seeded second in the Moto Division on a Suzuki DR-Z400. The 36-year-old from Paige, Texas, won 25 grands prix for Suzuki during his 500cc career and knows he faces a tough cross country rally debut in the Safari.
"This is the first time I've done one of these races so the other guys are way ahead of me in experience," said Schwantz. "I've been doing as much riding as possible on a (Suzuki) DR-Z400 before coming to Australia to prepare. A grand prix goes for about 45-minutes and you're flat-out, but riding more than 300km in a day is something that's going to be new to me."
The third seed in the Moto Division is West Australian Tim Fitzhardinge on a KTM 660 Rallye, followed by American Casey McCoy. The 24-year-old Californian, who has raced in the Nevada 2000 and Vegas to Reno rallies, will ride a Honda XR400 in the Safari. Dubai-based Briton Steve Blackney is seeded sixth on a KTM 660 Rallye. He is a seven-times Middle East Open Motocross Champion and finished 10th in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) Desert Challenge in 1997.
Northern Territory rider Stephen Greenfield, winner of the Moto Division in the 1999 Safari, is unable to compete this year after snapping a collarbone in the Nevada 2000 in July.
This year's Safari includes overnight stops starting in Alice Springs, then Curtain Springs, back to Alice Springs, and north to Wycliffe Well, Top Springs, Katherine, and finally Darwin, where the event concludes with a 3km stage on Mindil Beach.
The Safari is promoted by Octagon Motorsport and has three-year backing from the Northern Territory Government. The event is sanctioned by the Federation Internationale de 'l'Automobile (FIA), and the Federation Internationale Motocycliste (FIM).
<pre> AUSTRALIAN SAFARI - TOP FIVE SEEDS (starting order stage one)
AUTO DIVISION 1. Bruce Garland (NSW)-Harry Suzuki (NSW), Holden Jackaroo 2. Terry Denham (NSW)-Michael Denham (NSW), Mitsubishi Pajero 3. Ross Nicastri (NSW)-Steve Green (NSW), Nissan Patrol 4. Des Harrington (Vic)-Graeme Taylor (NSW), Nissan Patrol Ute 5. Peter Glennie (NSW)-TBA, Toyota Landcruiser
MOTO DIVISION 1. Andrew Caldecott (SA), KTM 660 Rallye 2. Kevin Schwantz (U.S.), Suzuki DR-Z400 3. Tim Fitzhardinge (WA), KTM 660 Rallye 4. Casey McCoy (U.S.), Honda XR400 5. Derryn Harrison (NSW), Honda XR400