News 6 Aug 2009

Off-Road: Grabham closes on Safari lead with two days to go


Australasian Safari leader Jacob Smith has used his bush mechanic skills and a sachet of McDonald’s pepper to help maintain his lead in the motorbike section of the seven-day, 3600 kilometre motoring marathon.

Smith holed the radiator of his Honda 30 kilometres into the first stage of the day, but added the pepper and rode the remaining 450 kilometres of the day without problems, preserving his well-earned lead over of his brother, Todd.

Two-time Australasian Safari winner Ben Grabham is looming as Smith’s greatest threat with two days to go. Riding a KTM, he dominated day five of the Safari, reducing Jacob Smith’s lead by nearly 18 minutes as the event did a three stage loop out of Laverton in the Western Australian outback.

The Czech Republic’s Josef Machacek continues to be the class of the quad bike field and is well on track to take victory on his Safari debut. The five-time Dakar Rally quad bike winner is a commanding 57 minutes ahead of Victorian Paul Smith.

Day five saw the competitors covering over 460 competitive kilometres, including a trip through the Great Victoria Desert, with plenty of sand dunes to negotiate in the rough and rugged country.

After his tyre problems on day two of the event saw him drop to 24th place, over an hour from the lead, most thought that Ben Grabham’s chances of a third straight motorbike victory were gone. However, the factory KTM rider has made staggering progress on the three days since.

He won the massive 250 kilometre stage that started the day, and was then second quickest on the remaining two high speed tests. With just two days to go, he now sits just over 33 minutes behind the Honda of leader Jacob Smith, and just over five minutes behind Smith’s brother, Todd.

While Grabham has been the pace setter, Jacob Smith must now concentrate on staying out of trouble, knowing the reigning champ is now within striking distance.

“It’s been a tough day at the office, but I got through it,” Jacob Smith said. “I lost some time to Ben (Grabham) today, but overall the bike was good.

“My plan is to get to the end of tomorrow and take no risks, and hopefully I’ll still be in the lead.”

Smith is suffering from a corked thigh, but says the injury is not slowing him down.

His brother Todd, riding a KTM, won the final stage of the day, but perhaps more importantly he dropped over 24 minutes to the charging Grabham over the day’s stages. With the pair now separated by just over five minutes, Smith will be looking over his shoulder, although one suspects that Grabham has his sights on the number one position.

“There was some tricky navigation today, but that’s the whole point of the race,” Grabham said. “I’ve learned from experience how to deal with that.

“I’ll try and get back more time over the next two days and claw back enough to take the lead,” he added, still confident of winning.

NSW rider Tim Vandenberg was fourth heading into today’s tests, but blew his engine on the first stage and will take no further part in the marathon.

That has elevated the West Australian, Ivan Erceg, into fourth place on a KTM, fourth minutes clear of South Australian Justin Nelligan.

“It’s going great,” Erceg said. “I’m riding like I ride with my mates – flat out. Tomorrow will be tough with difficult navigation as there are lots of bike tracks and mining tracks around Kalgoorlie.

“I’m rapt to be placed where I am as I have a smaller bike than my rivals, with a lot less top speed.”

Machacek won two of the three stages in the quad bike category and once again managed to steer clear of the rocks and sand dunes that make the WA outback such a challenge for Australasian Safari competitors.

The 52-year old off-road legend has used all his experience to set up his lead, despite not always being the fastest rider over the first five days.

His rivals, including team-mate Martin Plechaty, WA’s Heath Young and Victorian Paul Smith, have often been quicker, but have lacked Machacek’s consistency.

Tommorrow’s three stages cover 392 competitive kilometres on many tight and overgrown tracks as the remaining cars, bikes and quads make their way from Laverton to Kalgoorlie.

Australasian Safari  – Results end Day 5

1 Jacob SMITH (NSW), Honda CRF 450 X, 16h 48m 00s
2 Todd SMITH (NSW), KTM 530 EXC, +27m 48s
3 Ben GRABHAM (NSW), KTM 530 EXC, +33m 06s
4 Ivan ERCEG (WA), KTM 450 EXC, +1h 26m 29s
5 Justin NELLIGAN (SA), KTM 530 EXC, +1h 30m 28s

1 Josef MACHACEK (CZ), Yamaha Raptor, 21h 19m 32s
2 Paul SMITH (VIC), CAN AM Renegade 800 R X, +56m 40s
3 Tomas KUBIENA (CZ),  2008 ATV Evolution, +12h 58m 12s