Blackney switches to Honda for Australian Safari

MONDAY, MAY 21: Multiple Middle East Open motocross champion Steve Blackney is switching from KTM to Honda power for his second successive start in the Australian Safari international cross country rally through the Northern Territory in ...

MONDAY, MAY 21: Multiple Middle East Open motocross champion Steve Blackney is switching from KTM to Honda power for his second successive start in the Australian Safari international cross country rally through the Northern Territory in August.

The Dubai-based British rider, who this year won the Middle East motocross title for the eighth time, said today he would contest the Moto Division of the Safari from August 19-26 on a Honda XR650.

Blackney said he was keen to atone for his frustrating Safari debut in 2000 when he shattered a finger in four places on the opening day in a crash near Alice Springs and eventually finished seventh after riding with pain-killers during the remainder of the event.

"I feel I could have done better last year, but unfortunately I broke my finger and then it got infected and I had to spend three days in hospital in Darwin afterwards to get it fixed," he said.

"This time I'm coming back on a Honda and hoping for a better run, and I'll know what to expect because the terrain on the Safari course is very different to the sandy deserts where I do most of my racing."

The 30-year-old rode a KTM 660 in the 2000 Safari, and believes his switch to a Honda will boost his prospects in this year's event from Alice Springs to Darwin.

"The KTM is good on the flat, open stages, but the Honda is lighter and I think it will be better suited to the variety of conditions you come across on the Safari," he said.

"I've been riding an XR650 in some desert enduro races near Dubai in the last few month so I'm familiar with the bike and what needs to be done to be as competitive as possible."

Blackney is being supported in his 2001 Safari campaign by Gary Shepherd and C.A.R.A. Motorcycles Mornington Peninsula Honda.

"They're an experienced group of people who been involved with the Safari before so we're in good shape," he said.

Blackney said the inclusion of the Moto Division of the Safari in this year's five-round Federation Internationale Motocycliste (FIM) Cross Country Rallies World Cup series was a positive step forward for the event.

The Cornwall-born rider has previously competed in the World Cup series, in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) Desert Challenge round, and finished 10th outright in 1997.

"The Safari is a fantastic event by itself, and being part of the World Cup will take it to another level with more riders and bikes from overseas," he said.

This year's Safari course will cover a total distance of 4,300km, with 2,794km in 23 competitive stages.

The event also includes the Auto Division for off-road four-wheel-drive vehicles over the same course, and a new Rally Division for cars and lightweight four-wheel-drive vehicles with approximately 1,350km of competitive stages.

The Safari is being supported for the third successive year by the Northern Territory Government. It is promoted by Octagon Worldwide, the sports marketing and entertainment division of the Interpublic Group, one of the world's largest marketing and communications groups. Octagon's other motorsport events in Australia in 2001 included the Grand Prix Rally in Victoria in February and the Targa Tasmania rally in April.

- www.australiansafari.com.au -

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Series Cross-Country Rally