WEDNESDAY, MARCH 29: Leading off-road racer Ross Nicastri has switched to a Nissan Patrol for this year's Australian Safari in a bid to win the 5,000km international cross-country rally for the first time and end the domination of fellow-Sydney...
WEDNESDAY, MARCH 29: Leading off-road racer Ross Nicastri has switched to a Nissan Patrol for this year's Australian Safari in a bid to win the 5,000km international cross-country rally for the first time and end the domination of fellow-Sydney competitor Bruce Garland.
Nicastri announced today he would contest the 2000 Safari through the Northern Territory from August 20-27 in a Nissan Patrol T3 with navigator Steve Green of Port MacQuarie.
The 39-year-old Sydney auto parts businessman drove Holden Jackaroos in his two previous starts in the Safari, finishing sixth in 1996 and being forced to withdraw the following year because of an engine failure after radiator damage.
This year's Safari will be held on a course from Alice Springs to Darwin and is for four-wheel-drive vehicles and motorcycles.
Nicastri, who won the 1998 Condobolin 750 off-road rally in a Jackaroo, believes the Nissan Patrol he will drive in this year's Safari will provide him with his best chance of breaking through for his first victory in the event ahead of defending champion Garland.
"I think the Nissan is tougher mechanically so hopefully this will be my year," said Nicastri. "We have a vehicle with the right mix of performance and reliability."
"Bruce (Garland) will again be tough to beat in the Jackaroo, because they are quick and nimble, but we will have plenty of staying power and that could make the difference."
"To win the Safari would be the ultimate - it's the toughest event of its type in Australia and it's the one we all aim to do well in."
Nicastri's Nissan Patrol was built by former off-road team owner Kees Weel, who won the Safari in 1995 navigating with fellow-Australian Doug Mainwaring.
The vehicle was previously raced in the Safari in 1999 by Mildura's John Hederics and Weel, who led the event at various stages before finishing second behind Garland.
Nicastri said the Nissan would be rebuilt at his team's workshop in Sydney, and he would complete his preparations by competing in the Condobolin 750 on April 22-23.
"The 'Condo' is a good lead-up race to do because it's like a mini-Safari and it will test the reliability of the Nissan and our teamwork," he said.
"We have to make sure that whatever we do to the vehicle in Sydney will have enough tolerance in it so that when we get out in the real hot, dry country in the Safari it doesn't cause problems there."
Nicastri said a crucial factor in the Safari would be remaining on the main tracks of the course.
"If you go off the race route you get flat tyres," said Nicastri. "One of the reasons why Bruce (Garland) won last year was because he didn't have any 'flats'. You have to drive within the limits depending on the conditions."
Nicastri said that he and Garland remained friends, despite their competitive rivalry.
"We can still talk, have a beer, and have a laugh during the event - it's great," said Nicastri.
Nicastri raced in speedway for 16 years and won the Australian Grand National Championship title in 1990 before switching to off-road events.
The Safari is promoted by Octagon Motorsport and has three-year backing from the Northern Territory Government. The event is fully sanctioned by the world controlling Federation Internationale de l'Automobile (F.I.A.) and the Federation Internationale Motocycliste (F.I.M.).