Riley says he's ready to win Australian Safari Rally.
MONDAY, AUGUST 12: Steve Riley, six-times runner-up in the Australian Safari, believes he is ready to break through and win the event for the first time in this month's international cross country rally through rural NSW.
The 39-year-old farmer from Leongatha in Victoria is racing a four-wheel-drive Cashcard Mitsubishi Pajero with John Doble in the Auto Division of the 4,375km rally from August 24-September 1.
Riley has made 14 starts in the Safari, including the inaugural event in 1985, and finished second in the Moto Division on six occasions riding works Hondas before switching to racing on four wheels.
He competed in the Safari's Auto Division for the first time in 2001 in the Pajero, and briefly led the event through the Northern Territory before being slowed by a waterlogged engine and he eventually finished 10th.
Riley said he had prepared his ex-Ralliart Pajero meticulously in a bid to topple four-times champion and 2001 winner Bruce Garland in his modified Holden Rally Team Jackaroo in the Safari, which is owned and produced by global sports and event marketing company Octagon.
"We've rebuilt the motor and pulled just about everything apart and put it back together again to give ourselves the best possible chance," said Riley. "It's taken many months working long nights to get things ready, but that's what you've got to do if you want to win."
Riley conceded the 3.5-litre V6 engine in the Pajero was not as powerful as Garland's Jackaroo, but he said he was pinning his winning hopes on superiour reliability.
"The Jackaroo has more power, but over long distances the Pajero will be easier on gearboxes and tyres so that could work to our advantage," said Riley.
"Our plan has been to build something that is reliable and tough so we can drive it flat out the whole way."
"In last year's Safari we worked our way forward to second place by the fourth day, and then took the lead when Bruce (Garland) had a problem."
"I thought we had a good chance at that stage, but then we had our own dramas when the engine 'died' in a creek and that was the end of it. If we keep it together this year I think we're a big chance."
Riley believes the knowledge he has gained from more than 100,000km of off-road competition over the past two decades compensates for his relative lack of four-wheel-drive racing experience.
"I learned how to read the terrain in all those years I was racing bikes, and that helps regardless of whether you're on two wheels or four," he said.
"Last year I was on a big learning curve with my first Safari in the Pajero, but now I'm more used to driving fast in a four-wheel-drive."
Riley has prepared the Pajero in a workshop on his 140-hectre property, assisted by mechanic Chris Stone who will accompany him on the Safari.
"We've done all the welding, fabricating, and everything else ourselves, and we're taking a truckload of 'spares' with us on the Safari," he said.
Stone will be joined by another mechanic, Alan Bennett, to form Riley's service crew on the event.
"There will be enough parts to rebuild the engine if we have to, and we've got 'spare' transmissions, differential, and suspension components in case they're needed," said Riley.
Riley said his preparation for the event as a 'privateer' was far removed from when he was part of the all-conquering works Honda team in the Safari in the 1980s and 1990s with Steve Chapman and John Hederics.
"In those days everything was paid for - we used to fly into wherever the Safari started, book into the hotel, and then away we'd go," said Riley.
"It's a lot different now, but in many ways it's also more satisfying and I enjoy the challenge of building things."