John Hederics aims to create more history in Australian Safari cross country rally.

THURSDAY, JUNE 20: John Hederics, the most successful motorcycle rider in Australian Safari history, is making a comeback to the event after a two-year absence in a bid to become the first competitor to win the international cross country rally on both two and four wheels.

The 39-year-old from Mildura won the Moto Division a record six times between 1990-96 for Honda, and will race a Nissan Patrol four-wheel-drive vehicle in this year's Safari through rural NSW from August 24-September 1.

He has made two previous Safari starts on four wheels in the Auto Division, in 1997 when he led for a lengthy period before retiring with engine problems, and again two years later when he finished runner-up to NSW's Bruce Garland in a Holden Jackaroo.

Hederics, who missed the past two Safaris, will be partnered in the Nissan in this year's 4,312km event by 1995 rally winner Kees Weel, father of Ford Falcon V8 Supercar driver Paul Weel.

"Kees (Weel) and I both enjoy competing and our aim is to win," said Hederics. "Importantly both of us have plenty of Safari experience, and we realise you've got to run at your own pace and not be too hard on your equipment to make it to at the finish. It would be good to be the first person to win on a bike and in a four-wheel-drive."

Hederics is preparing the modified 4.2-litre fuel-injected Nissan at his property, and he expects to start testing the vehicle in mid-July in the lead-up to the Safari, which is owned and produced by global sports and event marketing company Octagon..

"We've rebuilt the engine and there is a new body, differential, and suspension," he said. "Our preparation is very thorough, which is vital for a rally like the Safari when you're driving over long distances in various types of conditions."

Hederics said he expected his main opposition in the chase for outright victory would be from Garland, a four-times champion and winner of the event the past three years when it was held in the Northern Territory.

Garland will spearhead the works Holden Rally Team in a modified Jackaroo, supported by nine-times Bathurst winner Peter Brock and part-time V8 Supercar driver Nathan Pretty in production-based models.

"Bruce (Garland) has won the Safari the last three years so he's the one to beat," said Hederics. "His preparation will be good and he knows how hard to go, but I'm confident we're capable of being competitive."

Hederics and Weel will be supported during the 25-stage Safari by a service crew of four personnel, and the team will have an extensive array of equipment and spare parts for any repairs required at the overnight stops in Bathurst, Condobolin, Griffith, Wentworth, Broken Hill, White Cliffs, Cobar, and Dubbo.

"We will be carrying welding gear and so forth, and enough spare parts to replace just about everything on the vehicle," said Hederics.

Hederics believes his knowledge of the area where the course is located will be a bonus.

"The Safari comes pretty close to where I live, and basically it's in my backyard," he said. "I think there will be more scrub and bush compared to the Northern Territory, and less rocky sections."

The Moto Division of this year's Safari will be the fourth of six rounds in the 2002 Federation Internationale Motocycliste (FIM) Cross-Country Rallies World Cup.

Octagon is the global marketing-led sports and event marketing company. It offers worldwide expertise across all eight major sports and event marketing disciplines: athlete representation, consultancy, event management, property representation and sales, TV rights sales and distribution, TV production and archive, new media and licensing and merchandising.

Octagon is part of The Interpublic Group (NYSE:IPG), the world's largest advertising and marketing communications group. The Interpublic Group is the only marketing communications and services group with a global sports marketing capability. Octagon employs over 1,500 people in 24 countries on all major continents. For further information please visit: www.octagon.com

- www.australiansafari.com.au