Despite high winds, deep sand, suicidal wildlife, 70km/h dust storms and, on the fifth and final day, a heavy shower of rain that turned the clay pans into skating rinks, Honda CRF450 mounted Jake Smith completed the 1750km cross-country Sunraysia Safari ahead of 2017 Champion Rod Faggotter on a Yamaha YZ450 – cunningly disguised as a WR450.
The KTM500EXC of Finke Desert Race exponent Luke Hayes filled the podium after winning the final day over Faggotter, Toby Hederics and Beau Hederics; sons of ten-time Australian Safari Champion John Hederics.
Like father, like sons. Both Hederics lads demonstrated they had the pace, taking the quinella on the first day. Faggotter won the second day and Smith the third; and the overall lead, hoping to get clear air out the front of the field on day four.
But, in the lead, Smith became the first to experience the 70km/h headwinds which quickly raised a dust storm and cut visibility to less than ten metres. “It’s the first time I’ve ever led a Safari at less than 40km/h” said Smith “and I just had to ride blind and trust the route chart to avoid the barbed wire.”
Throughout the field the headwinds and dust played havoc with both speed and economy as many riders reported being unable to pull top gear in the heavy sand; and others ran short of fuel due to blocked air cleaners. Sam Davie was one such who had to push his Husqvarna the final two kilometres to the finish control. Naturally this was located upwind.
For Smith the day bought both good news and bad. At the conclusion he had marginally increased his overall lead over Faggotter, but on the final liaison stage back to the bivouac his engine was making very ominous sounds. He managed to coax it home for an engine swap which allowed him to protect his overall lead throughout the final day.
Back in the field, Gary Monaghan won the Adventure Bike section on his KTM690 in ninth outright whilst Dakar veteran Dave Schwarz finished tenth outright and won the over 45-years-old division. Victor Bonnaci finished 10 of the 13 competitive stages to be the first and only Quad home.
By Peter Whitaker
Photo Donat O’Kelly