FRIDAY, AUGUST 18: British rider Steve Blackney today predicted the Vodafone Australian Safari through the Northern Territory would undergo substantial growth when it became part of the World Cup motorcycle cross country rally series next ...
FRIDAY, AUGUST 18: British rider Steve Blackney today predicted the Vodafone Australian Safari through the Northern Territory would undergo substantial growth when it became part of the World Cup motorcycle cross country rally series next year.
Blackney, racing a KTM 660 in the 2000 Safari which starts in Alice Springs on Sunday, competed in the United Arab Emirates Desert Challenge round of the World Cup the past three years and said the upgraded status of the Australian event would lure international manufacturer-supported teams and more top riders to compete.
"Being part of the World Cup is going to be a huge boost for the Safari because it will virtually guarantee the participation of the big-budget factory teams from overseas," said Blackney.
"The various manufacturers from Europe and Japan spend millions of dollars trying to win the World Cup each year because it carries so much prestige and obviously helps with marketing and sales."
The 2001 Safari is scheduled to be the fourth round of the Federation Internationale Motocycliste (FIM) Cross Country Rallies World Cup and will be held from August 19-26.
Other rounds in the World Cup calendar announced by the FIM are the Optic 2000 in Tunisia, the Montes de Cuenca in Spain, the Master Rallye in France and Turkey, the Rally of Egypt, and the UAE Desert Challenge.
The World Cup is contested by factory-supported KTM, Yamaha, Honda, and Husqvarna teams, and leading riders include Italians Fabrizio Meoni and Giovanni Sala, and South African Alfie Cox.
Dubai-based Blackney, a seven times Middle East Open motocross champion, had a setback to his preparations for this year's Safari when his machine was damaged while it was being transported to Australia.
"The packing crate was destroyed and the indicators and fenders were crushed so we've had to get some new parts," said Blackney.
"We've fixed everything, but the delays have cost us valuable time to do as much riding as possible before the Safari starts to get used to the Australian conditions."
The 29-year-old from Cornwall said he noticed from his first training ride near Alice Springs that the terrain was much different to the sandy conditions he was familiar with racing in the Middle East.
"When you race in the desert you can brake late because the sand washes off speed in the turns," he said.
"Here there is only a few inches of sand on top of a rock base, so the emphasis is on braking much earlier."
Blackney is one of 35 riders entered in the Moto Division of the Safari, which will be contested on a 4,067km course over 24 stages from Alice Springs to Darwin.
Former 500cc world champion Kevin Schwantz, who is making his cross country rally debut in the Safari, completed a training ride on his Suzuki DR-Z400 today and said the condition of his injured ankle had improved considerably in the past 24 hours.
Schwantz sprained and bruised his left ankle when he hit a rock during a training ride near Alice Springs, but the 35-year-old Texan has confirmed he will race.
The Safari has attracted 24 entries in the Auto Division, headed by top seed and defending champion Bruce Garland. The 41-year-old from Sydney, who will drive a Holden Jackaroo with Harry Suzuki, is scheduled to arrive in Alice Springs later today.
The Safari is promoted by Octagon Motorsport and is backed by the Northern Territory Government.