Grabham the man to beat in Safari Two-time champion Ben Grabham will face over 50 competitors from across Australia and around the world, but he remains the man to beat in this year's Australasian Safari which gets in the Western...
Grabham the man to beat in Safari
Two-time champion Ben Grabham will face over 50 competitors from across Australia and around the world, but he remains the man to beat in this year's Australasian Safari which gets in the Western Australia capital of Perth on Saturday (August 1).
The arduous 3600 kilometre Safari course takes in some of the state's toughest outback tracks. Riders will be battling the conditions, as well as each other, on the event commonly referred to as the Dakar Down Under'.
Grabham will lead the field away from the ceremonial start in the Perth suburb of Northbridge on Saturday night. The 28-year old's victories in 2007 and 2008 came on a Honda, but he has switched to the factory KTM team in 2009 and looks more than capable of repeating his previous feats.
The Bathurst rider has already won the Finke and Hattah Desert races this year, showing the form that makes him the outright favourite for the Safari.
"We've had a good season so far, winning all the desert races we've been in," Grabham said. "I'm confident going into the Safari, but it's a tough race and it's really hard to predict.
"The new KTM 530 I'm riding is more powerful than the bike I rode last year, and it seems to suit my riding style a lot better. It's been easier to set up, and should be faster."
Grabham is already race fit' and says that he does nothing different to prepare for the Safari. He plans to ride each day on its merits, without worrying too much about what his opposition is doing.
"There are some fast guys out there, but winning the Safari is about having a reliable run and not getting lost. The navigation plays a huge part in the event. I know I've got the speed to win the event, but that's not worth anything if I'm on the wrong road."
Queensland privateer, Rod Faggotter, put in one of the rides of the event to take second place in 2008. The Longreach rider has received a major boost with factory backing from Yahama for 2009.
"I'm really looking forward to the event this year. The organisers have promised a tougher course so it will be important to stay focused for each of the seven days," Faggotter said.
"Coming home in second last year was a good achievement and I'd like to think we have what it takes to really challenge for a win this year.
"I've been doing a lot of preparation, my training has involved mostly long-distance riding and I feel like I'm coming up to speed well.
Ben Grabham's brother, Damien, will ride the second factory KTM and after finishing third last year, he'll be hoping to climb even further up the leaderboard, perhaps even aiming for a family one-two.
After a successful debut in 2008, the Husaberg Rallye Racing team returns with one of the most experienced teams in the field. They will field six riders on both the new 2009 Husaberg FE570s, and also the proven 2008 Husaberg FE650s.
South Australian rider David Schwarz switching from long-time KTM support - and New South Welshman, Andrew Coaker, head their assault, but Swedish rider, Annie Seel, is expected to attract plenty of attention as the event winds its way through regional Western Australia.
One of the world's leading female riders, Seel has finished the Dakar Rally on three separate occasions and is relishing the challenge of riding in the Safari.
"I think the Safari will be similar to the Dakar stages I did in Argentina earlier this year - fast and dusty. Considering we'll be covering over 3600 kilometres in just a week, I'll need to keep my pace up," the Swedish rider said.
Seel has competed in cross country events around the world - in Dubai, Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, Argentina and Chile - and in 2004 won the FIM World Rallye Championship as the top female rider.
Team BMW have entered a three-bike team, including two riders from South Africa. Kobus Potgieter and Johan Franken will both ride the factory machines, joined by Queenslander Magnus Eriksson.
While Australian riders are expected to set the pace, the international stars will be eager to show their skills. Sweden, South Africa, the UK, and New Zealand will be represented, while Nobuyuki Oguri, Go Kondo and Kazunori Ito will all fly the flag for Team Japan.