He may have missed out on the history-making double, but Toby Price still rewrote the record books
Toby Price is continually smashing records when it comes to two-wheel achievement. This time, the 30-year-old nabbed the record number of Finke Desert Race wins… six to be exact.
On 11 June, Toby snatched the crown from Northern Territory legend Randall Gregory who held the previous record of five victories, in what is widely regarded as Australia’s toughest desert race.
After missing last year’s event due to injury, Price was looking forward to not only riding the Tatts Finke Desert Race, but driving the Tatts Finke Desert Race. He was going to attempt the Ironman Double for the second time by driving his V8-Chev powered trophy truck to Finke, catching a ride in a chopper back to Alice Springs, then riding his KTM500 back down the same 230km track to Finke. The next day would be the return trip, for both vehicles. Toby attempted this feat in 2016 only to DNF in the Trophy Truck on the way back to Alice Springs.
The long weekend started well for the North Star Pastoral KTM Desert Racing Team, with Price winning the prologue from the 583-strong motorcycle field, and after setting the fourth fastest time in the Auto category. Price’s KTM teammate, David Walsh did not have an ideal prologue, finishing 28th. Ivan Long (Husqvarna) was only 0.4 seconds behind Price and would start second on the grid. Condobolin’s Jacob Smith (Honda) was 2.1 seconds off the lead and would start the run to Finke in third place.
On Sunday morning, the Autos hit the dirt first. There is no doubt years of pre-running and racing meant Toby was familiar with the race track, but his skills as a driver were apparent when he managed to set the second-fastest time to Finke in his Red Bull-sponsored trophy truck. After crossing the line, Price hightailed it back to Alice to start the bike race.
Despite recent injuries, the former Dakar winner had lost none of his outright desert speed, holding his KTM 500EXC-F flat in an impressive incident-free run into Finke. However the track and conditions took their toll on many of the top names, such as Smith, Long and four-time Finke winner Ben Grabham (KTM), and the DNF list started to grow. David Walsh put his disappointing prologue aside, riding an impressive race from Alice to Finke to post the second-fastest time, just 4m12s behind Price. Callum Norton flew the flag for Honda, coming in 13m19s behind Price, in third place aboard his CRF450R.
The overnight camp at Finke gave Toby time to rest and recover as he contemplated the return trip the following day. First in the Trophy Truck, then on the bike. If you think this race is easy, just ask the 60+ riders who DNF’d on day one. Price was happy with his lead, but not complacent. “The track has been hard to pick with a lot of square-edged holes and you just couldn’t see them – you are on edge the whole time and it is quite difficult,” he said. “I pulled a little bit of a lead but it is never comfortable – this race will throw anything at you.”
With the sun barely above the horizon on Monday morning, the Auto’s lined up for the return run back to the Alice. Four-time Finke victor Shannon Rentsch was first away, with Price starting just under 3min behind, in second place. The laid-back New South Welshman’s dream of becoming the first person to claim both the Auto and Bike category victories ended when a power-steering failure rendered the truck almost undriveable under race conditions. A quick chopper ride back to Finke and Toby was gearing up ready to ride his KTM, to what might be a history making win.
As predicted, this race does throw things at you, even if you are Toby Price. A dream run home was not to be. Despite having clear air, even he wasn’t immune to crashing and at the 100km mark, down he went. Fortunately, a few scars on his helmet was all the harsh desert claimed and he was able to remount and race his way to a record-setting sixth victory. Even with an unplanned dirt excursion, Price set an even faster return time, to give him an overall winning time of 3h55m25s. Finishing on the second step of the podium, just 10 minutes behind, was Price’s teammate David Walsh, making it a one-two for the North Star Pastoral KTM Desert Racing Team. Completing the KTM trifecta was Jack Simpson, also riding a 500EXC-F with a time of 4h21m6s.
The champagne was a bitter sweet affair for Price who, for the second time from as many attempts, failed to finish the truck category through no fault of his own. Though his two-wheel finesse and talent is, as we’ve all come to learn, unrivalled. Certainly here at Finke, where no one has won more outright wins than the likeable Toby Price.
By Max Sullivan PHOTOGRAPHY Dirtcomp & MS
As appeared in AMCN Mag Vol 67 No 25