|Australasian Safari: Competitors play "cat and mouse" on first Marathon day.|
Monday's Marathon Leg, the first of two in this year's Australasian Safari, saw the top of the field in the motos, cars and quads secure their positions in a day of cat and mouse where caution was key to stay in the race. Limited servicing rules meant it was crucial to keep the vehicles in one piece over some incredibly difficult terrain.
The cars have faced another tough day and the Denhams in their special built Mitsubishi Triton remain at the top of the field, five minutes in front of the Australian local V8-Series "Star" Craig Lowndes and Kees Weel in their Holden Colorado (Australian GM-version of Isuzu D-Max).
Craig was happy with the way the car drove and stuck to the game plan of looking after it to get it to the end of the two Marathon days. "The car went really well. I got told last night that we just had to get through these stages pretty much unscathed, so we're not too concerned about time. Our main priority, given Kees and I have to work on it ourselves, is to make sure we don't have to do too much to it.
"We just cleaned the windscreen and that's about all we did in service. The car is nice, its got some marks on the tyres but we're in good shape for tomorrow."
Darren Green and Wayne Smith finished in fourth position, having some highs and lows over the course of the Leg. "Parts of the course today suited us. There was a big variation in the types of terrain. The rocky stuff suits us, but the sand is no good," Darren said. "We backed up a lot today and didn't go flat out. We started off fast but about 70 km in we hit a rock and buckled the wheel. That made us reassess and slow down. The stages are a lot more rugged than they have been before. The hardest on the cars that we've ever seen."
Dakar-legend and Isuzu-pioneer Bruce Garland and Harry Suzuki are sitting in fifth outright after today, about 14 minutes behind the leaders. Bruce said it was a difficult course, and their game plan was also to stay cautious to keep their Isuzu D-Max intact.
"On the first stage today it was hard to find the track sometimes. But other than that we took it pretty easy. The second stage was easier. They were still fairly tight, but there were some long fast straights. We staked a tyre on a rocky section, and then just changed the air filter in the service but apart from that all we did was to clean the windscreen and have a look at everything. "We'll do the same tomorrow. There is still a lot of racing to go."
In the Bikes, Todd Smith on a KTM managed to finish on top of the motos despite nursing a sore shoulder from yesterday and thanks to some on-form navigation. "I thought the stages were still pretty tight, but much faster today. They were a bit more predictable, so I guess that makes them faster. I went past Jake, Ben and Rod on the last stage because they took a wrong turn. "I had a hole in the radiator, so I had to fix that in the service. I didn't get a chance to do much else," Todd said.
Yesterday's leader Ben Grabham, also on a KTM, had a strategy for a steady day. It proved successful, finishing just over a minute later than Todd. The Marathon Day rules do not allow moto tyres to be changed during the stages, so Ben said he wasn't trying to be fast to minimise wear on his tyres.
"The guys who were going too fast have shredded theirs so it will be interesting to see how they go tomorrow. I don't expect to be in the lead after today, because I was riding conservatively. Today's stages were long and faster, and a bit more open. Yesterday was more technical. I was first on the stage, and so I was trying to set the pace and slow things down a bit, thinking about tomorrow," Ben said.
Rod Faggotter on a Yamaha WR450F had an eventful day, getting caught twice in wire on the track. "For the second stage we were riding single file and chewing dust. The wire slowed me down in the morning and I would have dropped some time because of that. I was riding to conserve the bike, in service I just did and oil change and changed the air filter. I dented a rim, but there is not much you can do to fix it and anyway its fine. Its going to be interesting to see how some of the bikes last tomorrow."
Paul Smith was the leader of the quads on his Honda TRX700XX, ahead of John Maragozidis on a Interceptor 850 by 32 minutes.
Competitors will have to face a second Marathon Day tomorrow as the event travels from Leonora to the historic goldfields town of Coolgardie, once the third largest town in Western Australia.
Considered one of the world's great endurance events, the Australasian Safari is travelling from Southern Cross in the wheatbelt through to the historic Western Australian goldfields, desert, rugged bush and coastal sand dunes, finishing at Esperance.
2010/09/20 | 14:44 CET | EDITOR: MR/HS/PITTAWAY