Leg 4 of the Australasian Safari took competitors from remote inland Gascoyne Junction to tropical Carnarvon on the Coral Coast of Western Australia in two stages of 133 and 156 kilometers. It was a Marathon Day, meaning no outside assistance was allowed from service crews.
Top competitors were struck down with mechanical issues, including Todd Smith, who was sitting in second place at the start of the day, had engine problems into the first stage and was out of Leg 4, which is sponsored by Toyo Tires.
Most competitors agreed the first stage, which was a rough rocky crossing of the Gascoyne River and a run along the western edge of the Kennedy Ranges, was a huge challenge. Obstacles including creeks and gutters and a newly-graded road through historic Binthalya Station, managed by the Department of Environment and Conservation.
The second stage of Leg 4 was hard and fast, forcing riders to tackle demanding red sand dunes before hitting some traditional Safari country with fence to fence tracks, well runs, windmills, tanks and wide open clay pans demanding accurate navigation.
Yamaha rider Rod Faggotter was one who didn’t face any major issues and held his lead. “I made some navigation errors in the first stage; the course was pretty challenging in parts,” Faggotter said. “I let Matt Fish pass me as I was getting lonely riding on my own! The bike’s staying strong and I’ll be pushing from here on. Actually, I can’t go slow as I’ll lose my concentration.”
Matt Fish on KTM won both Leg 4 stages, and now sits 19 minutes behind Faggotter. “I had a good clean run and really enjoyed the course,” Fish said. “The first stage was quite tricky but finished with sandy and flowing and tracks and I’m a fan of that. There was more of that in the second stage. I’ve cut the lead a bit from Rod and now it’s a fine balance between pushing and preserving. I’m still trying to win.”
Todd Smith doesn’t think he will ride tomorrow. Smith and his brother Jake—both past winners of Safari—are out of contention. “I was catching Rod in the first 30 kilometers but then I had engine problems.,” Todd Smith explained. “Jake stopped and we tried to replace my engine with his, but we didn’t have the right tools. I put so much into the months leading up to this event, I’m really disappointed.”
Shane Diener on Yamaha has moved into third overall, and continues to lead the Dakar Challenge. “I saw Todd broken down this morning,” Diener said. “As much as you don’t like to see that, it’s better than seeing him injured. About 38 kilometers into the first stage, a stick hit my ankle and I’ve now got a golf-ball sized lump on my foot. It was okay to keep riding; it hurts more when I stop. I’m happy with my position and I’m going to try to preserve it and ride ’til the end.”
Rally champion Alister McRae, riding a KTM, continues to creep up the field and said he didn’t have too bad a day for a rally driver. “I’m going to try to keep going and the same pace and not make any mistakes,” McRae explained. “The bike’s going really good; all we’ve been doing is changing the oil and the air filters and that’s it. It’s been perfect; it just needs to be perfect for three more days. The course is a challenge. I found the last long stage really hard towards the end yesterday.”
McRae said he was enjoying the camaraderie of the Australasian Safari as well: “It’s a great atmosphere here in the bivouac. Even though were fighting against each other, it stays on the course. In between the stages today I stopped to change an air filter and Lee Stephens stopped to make sure I was all right. We’re all here to get the best result but we’re all helping each other at the same time.”
One of Australasian Safari’s biggest characters, Ivan Erceg, was enjoying the wildlife today through station country. “The cows are friendly!” Erceg said. “I saw a few emus out there today too. I got lost for about three minutes but otherwise it was a good day. The bike’s going sweet as and I felt safe today with the mechanic who built my bike, Paul Nappy, following behind me. I’m happy in my position, I’m leading my class and just have to ride it home now.”
Australasian Safari Results After Leg 4
Rodney Faggotter – 14:10:02
Matt Fish – 14:30:04
Shane Diener – 14:48:40
Alister McRae – 15:15:12
Lee Stephens – 15:20:27
Russell Scoble – 15:40:02
Ryan Ingram – 16:09:41
Troy O’Connor – 16:32:36
Ivan Erceg – 16:38:45
Tim Foreman – 16:58:09
Photography by Sabine Albers and Keith Hedgeland