Paris-Dakar rally star Alfie Cox enters Australian Safari

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THURSDAY, JULY 18: Alfie Cox, runner-up in the motorcycle division of year's Paris-Dakar rally, today confirmed he would race in next month's Australian Safari international cross-country rally through rural NSW. The 39-year-old South African ...

THURSDAY, JULY 18: Alfie Cox, runner-up in the motorcycle division of year's Paris-Dakar rally, today confirmed he would race in next month's Australian Safari international cross-country rally through rural NSW.

The 39-year-old South African speedster will compete in the 4,375km event from August 24-September 1 on a Red Bull KTM 660 Rallye similar to the machine he rode in the Paris-Dakar rally in January when he finished second to Italian Fabrizio Meoni.

Cox has raced in the Paris-Dakar five times for Austrian manufacturer KTM since 1998 and his record in the world's premier cross country rally includes seven stage wins, including two this year, and four top-five finishes.

"I'm very excited about coming to Australia and racing in the Safari for the first time," said Cox, who operates a KTM dealership and Adventure Tour business near Durban in the Natal province.

"Everything will be new to me, but the harder it gets the more I like it. In these races it's all about going hard when you have to, and keeping a cool head and being calculating as well."

"I've heard about the Safari and I know the Australian riders will be tough, so this race looks as open as the Australian outback!"

Craig Fletcher, Motorsports General Manager of global sports and event marketing company Octagon, which owns and produces the Safari, said Cox's entry was a coup for the event, which has moved to NSW in 2002 this year after being in the Northern Territory the past three years.

"Alfie Cox is one of the world's best in this class of racing, as we've seen by his performances in the Paris-Dakar, and it's fantastic to have a rider of his calibre in the Safari," said Fletcher.

"He will generate huge interest in our event, and importantly it also offers the Australians a chance to prove themselves against a top international competitor."

This year's Safari, which also includes the Auto Division for off-road four-wheel-drive vehicles, starts and finishes in Bathurst, and includes overnight stops in Condobolin, Griffith, Wentworth, Broken Hill, White Cliffs, Cobar, and Dubbo.

Cox is one of three leading entries on KTM machinery in the Safari, along with Andy Caldecott, Moto Division winner the past two years, and fellow-South Australian Andy Hayden, champion in 1997.

"I raced against Andy Hayden in the Paris-Dakar in '98 when we were both rookies in that race," said Cox. "We got along well and became good friends so it will be good to see him again."

Cox said his machine would be fitted with performance-enhancing White Power suspension, and his team would operate separately from the Caldecott and Hayden crews.

The Moto Division of this year's Safari doubles as round four of the 2002 Federation Internationale Motocycliste (FIM) Cross Country Rallies World Cup.

Cox finished fifth in the opening World Cup round in Tunisia, and after competing in the Safari he will also race in the remaining two events in Egypt and in the United Arab Emirates.

"Apart from the Paris-Dakar and Tunisia, I've been riding in local endurance and off-road championships in Africa so I'm race-fit," said Cox.

"We have all types of terrain in Africa, with rocks, hard-packed sand, and stones, so hopefully I can handle whatever conditions we come across in Australia," he said.

Cox, who was unable to compete internationally until 1992 because of South Africa's previous political regime, said his No 1 career goal was to win the Paris-Dakar event.

"Finishing second this year was the high point so far, and now I want to go one better," he said.

"The guys who are dominating that race have been doing it for eight or nine years -- you get more confidence as you gain experience."

Entries in the Safari's Auto Division include four-times winner Bruce Garland in a modified Holden Rally Team Jackaroo. The team also includes nine-times Bathurst 1000 champion Peter Brock and part-time V8 Supercar driver Nathan Pretty in production models.

-www.octagon.com

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Series DAKAR