Queenslanders have scooped the major results at the Australasian Safari with Dakar racers Geoff Olholm winning the car section and Rod Faggotter taking the two-wheel title.
70 of the 100 starters made it through to the finish in Geraldton after 3200 kilometres and seven days which began in Jurien Bay, Western Australia last Friday.
Olholm and Gordon Trigg brought it home in the auto category, taking seven of 16 stages of the off-road endurance race. Yamaha dealer, Faggotter, had a convincing moto win, not only for himself but also for Yamaha, which celebrated its first victory since Alan Cunningham back in 1986.
The final Leg of Safari saw competitors tackle three stages including a beach blast south bound from Kalbarri, farmland with sharp rocky tracks, steep beach descents, a fast run through sheep paddocks, weaving through gates, along and between fences and across open paddocks with crests, gutters, ruts and creeks all creating hazards.
Competitors finished on the stunning Geraldton foreshore where a guard of honour was formed by moto riders and the DMC Rally team as their team member Ivan Erceg's bike number 19 and race card were solemnly delivered through the finish line by close mate and multiple Safari competitor Vern Strange.
Olholm said it was good to get the monkey off his back and finish first in his 2009 Toyota Hilux. “It's been a long time coming – I feel fantastic, it's a great feeling for the team, my navigator Gordon, my wife Jenny at home and everyone, it's been a whole team effort. We've had a perfect run in a perfect car.
For Dave McShane it was third time lucky making it to second place on the podium and driving his modified 2012 Toyota Hilux buggy. “I'm really happy to be here. I've entered in Safari twice before – navigating in 2001 and driving last year but we didn't make it to the last day. It was a tough event, and today I was pushing to try to bridge the gap. I knew Geoff would try to take it easy, today's stages were tough, it was quite scenic but I was a bit too busy to look at it.”
For third placed Andrew Travis and his dad and navigator David Travis the Safari was a great adventure. “Can we do another three days?” Andrew said. “The car's been perfect. It's time to give it a birthday present and a bit of love and we hope to come back in another two years. We're really happy to podium in our first Safari.”
Dakar Challenge winner Amy Lerner said her and sister Tricia Reina felt finishing the Australasian Safari had been an incredible accomplishment. “The Safari was awesome, great fun and really challenging. We now understand what everyone's been talking about. Les Walkden (auto competitor) and his support crew have been amazing, the organisers have been really supportive and to do this event has been super inspiring. Our next step is to start planning Dakar.”
For all three moto podium finishers, it was a case of ‘if at first you don't succeed, try try again'.
Faggotter said after six attempts it felt great to make it to first place. “I'm really happy, it took a while to get here and it feels surreal at the moment. I didn't really do anything spectacular this week, I had a dream run with no real mechanical issues. It was great to finally bring it home again for Yamaha too, they've been a great support.”
Matt Fish on KTM 500 EXC has also overcome the disappointment experienced at previous Safaris to finally have a podium finish – placing second. “I'm feeling really good. I've been disappointed to have not made it to the finish in the last couple of years. Just finishing the Safari feels fantastic, let alone making it to the podium. Today's stages were short but quite tricky. I didn't take any risks, I just wanted to get to the finish line.”
Shane Diener is another who has finally achieved an enormous goal and also set a record by putting two Yamaha riders on the podium – the first time in the history of Safari. He said he was so glad to finish. “I'm really happy and really relieved, I've had six starts in seven years and this is the first time I've finished it. In previous years it's always been a mechanical issue or I've been broken.”
Diener said he was really happy to win the Dakar Challenge. “I'm actively looking for sponsors if anyone out there is interested! I'll now be getting a budget together and starting to source a bike.”
Other notable mentions in the moto category are Lee Stephens who has managed to achieve a fourth place finish in his first Safari, coming into the event with a motocross background. He won a free entry into Australasian Safari from the Safari Challenge at the Condo 750.
Rally champion Alister McRae had a huge week finishing fifth also in his first Safari and one of his first moto events.
KTM was a standout manufacturer with seven out of the top ten moto competitors on its bikes.
Vern Strange said although it was a very difficult time, it was fantastic to see all the riders paying a moving tribute to Ivan Erceg. “We're all devastated, and I was really proud to ride with his number and carry his card in.”
There has never been such a tight battle between the top two Quads in the history of Safari. Heath Young from Western Australia was the victor in a race that wasn't decided until he crossed the final time control. He won by one minute and six seconds on his KTM 690 Rally over John Maragozidis from South Australia.
Young just relieved to finally podium in his fifth Safari. “It's been a tough last few days emotionally. I'm bloody glad it's done. It's been four years trying to get to this position. Last year I came second so this feels so good.”
Michael Heuchan from New South Wales had a huge 12-hour lead and won the side-by-side category on a 2012 Polaris XP900E.