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Where are they now? Dave Schwarz is the master cross-country navigator | Columns | Gassit Garage

“Anyone else would have been immensely satisfied with a top 40 Dakar finish, but Dave was royally pissed off”

I remember sitting with Husaberg teammates Dave Schwarz and a very young Sam Sunderland at the end of the 2011 Australasian Safari. Over a cold beer, Sam was lamenting his lack of navigation skills – on one stage he was so far off course he was almost in the next state. But Dave just couldn’t seem to comprehend how anyone could not follow what were, to him, such simple route instructions.

Dave had just finished his ninth Safari, a considerable achievement in itself. The fact that he’d also finished on the leaderboard in every Safari he’d contested – including several class wins and an outright podium – is testament to his navigation skills. These skills also resulted in three finishes and a third outright in the Condo 750 and numerous class victories in the notoriously harsh 24 Hour Trial, held in Dave’s home state of South Australia.

In 2005, after two class victories in the Australian Safari, Dave was selected by KTM Australia to contest Dakar in the 450 division, while Safari winner and close mate Andy Caldecott would contest the outright. Andy scored a sixth outright and Dave finished third in the 450 Division. But not without considerable difficulty.

“I ate something very disagreeable on the rest day which gave me the squirts,” he says, “then on Day 10 I broke a chain, only to find the wrong link in my parts kit. I was extremely lucky when fellow Aussie Simon Pavey came through not long after and had the right link.”

It was a remarkable result for Australia, and Dave’s bike is now in Birdwood’s National Motor Museum. However, at that time Dakar didn’t really resonate Down Under the way it does now.

“Sitting on the beach at Lac Rose, Andy and I were feeling pretty pleased,” Dave recalls. “But Andy did wonder, ‘Do you think anyone at home really understands what we’ve achieved?’”

Unfortunately, Andy never got to enjoy another Australian Safari, but Dave continued his long run of success on home soil. Then, as a privateer with some assistance from KTM Australia, he entered the 2008 Dakar that was aborted at the 11th hour. But Dave did get to race the first Dakar in South America the following year. Anyone else would have been immensely satisfied with a top 40 finish, but Dave was royally pissed off.

“I was well inside the top 20 heading into the rest day when I copped a four-hour penalty for a missed waypoint. Giniel de Villiers was on my arse in the leading car but I remember stopping to make sure my GPS had picked up the waypoint. Giniel supported my protest but the officials wouldn’t budge. I think I swore never ever to return.”

However, Dave’s disappointment faded and the offer to ride a Husaberg FE450 in 2012 was too good to pass up. Another solid finish made Dave the only resident Aussie to have completed three Dakars – on two continents no less – before calling it quits.

But not entirely. Dave still raids the shed occasionally and this year fronted up for his 10th Finke Desert Race, but a collision with a fellow competitor ended his run prematurely. His own disappointment was completely forgotten, though, when 24-year-old Ivan Long – sponsored by Dave’s company Schwarz Excavations – came storming home to claim a class victory and almost steal the whole show.

“Ivan demonstrated what he’s capable of,” Dave says. “It would be great to see him get a win.”

As we spoke, Dave had just returned from Florida where his daughter Lauren was getting some coaching on the Pro Wakeboard Tour of America, and it was time for him to return to work in his thriving excavation business.

But with the revival of cross-country navigational rallying imminent at the Sunraysia Safari, Dave is getting twitchy. It just may be time to put those skills to work once again.

PETER WHITAKER