Daniel Sanders wins Hattah Desert Race
By John Pearson
The annual pilgrimage to Mildura and surrounding towns in July is something eagerly awaited by the hordes of VB guzzling, campfire bandits who live the previous 12 months of their lives preparing for two days of racing, mateship, red sand and frosty mornings.
The Hattah Desert Race draws them from far and wide from all backgrounds, male or female, to try their hand at taming the 30km beast that has broken the hearts and souls of so many before them.
The 2017 running saw some of the most thrilling racing in the event’s history with top AORC contender Daniel Milner and Daniel Sanders (returning home from Europe to compete) battling to and fro right down to the last lap. Milner strode away the victor. In 2018 the crown is perched firmly upon his head and with a crowd of top level desert racers attending only time would tell if the King would be overthrown.
All manner of machinery is put forward to enter this race that should probably only be attempted by the most modern machines.
That doesn’t stop the die-hards who know their 2004 WR250F still has the legs to go the distance after having a fresh top end done. And true, it just may last the race.
But what about the rider. The spirited manner in which everyone approaches this spectacle of the desert is enough to warm the cockles of your heart.
The diverse and many faceted crowd that attends scrutineering night at Red Cliffs are a mix of professional racers, pocket rocket children, local heroes and bucket listers and each is intensely proud of their steed as is evident in the presentation and spectacle inside the AFL oval at Quandong Park.
Inexorably the greatest area of fuss centres around factory teams where people can shake hands and talk with their heroes and mates.
Kids are drawn to the pros who all spend time talking to them, asking questions, signing posters and shaking hands. True professionals all, keeping their audience entertained but their mind on the game for tomorrow is prologue.
It’s an early start. The sun is yet to rise, and the activity is already underway. Officials are being briefed, as are the riders while the line for coffee grows ever longer.
With technicalities done, prologue begins and to say there are some fast youngsters out there is an understatement. Many record times well under some of the senior class riders. But what the spectators really want are the fast guys.
While they battle hard only scant seconds apart around a picturesque track filled with twists, turns and blindingly fast straights the cream rises to the top to be skimmed away for the top 10 shootout.
Another opportunity for the fastest desert racers in the country to show their wares with Daniel “Chucky” Sanders being the fastest for the day narrowly edging out Milner giving him the coveted number 1 start position on a grid of around 400 bikes.
For anyone who hasn’t witnessed a Hattah Desert Race start, you need to get your arse out here. One of the true motorsport spectacles this country has to offer never disappoints.
As an ATV rides down the line in front of the bikes at jogging pace the riders tear away at full tilt after it passes them leaving an artistic rooster tail carved in the sand all converging on the first corner.
The track is lined by spectators for quite some distance on the way out and the way in with some preferring to stand at the big right hander before they fire out of the dunes back towards the start/finish line.
The first lap sees Chucky come bolting out of the deep sand first with Milner around 12 seconds back before the roar of 400 machines continues for the next 40 minutes while the back runners make their way through their first lap.
Unfortunately for Milner, and the rest of the field that gap would continue to widen. Somewhere on the 3rd lap Milner has trouble with his starter circuit with the bike stopping mid lap. After a passing rider offers him a Swiss Army knife and he’s able to repair the issue he has fallen back to 12th place.
Milner manages to mount a fierce fightback but unfortunately it isn’t enough with Sanders streaking away to possibly his sweetest victory and first Hattah Desert Race crown.
The rostrum also saw Active8 Yamaha rider Josh Green in 2nd after a standout ride on a brutal track with KTM Enduro team rider Lyndon Snodgrass showing he’ll be a force to be reckoned with in the future by snaring 3rd.
Everyone figured it was always going to be a race between two men. And who knows what could have been or what caused the gremlin that plagued Milner’s machine.
From the start, Sanders always looked in control. There was never a hint of fatigue that showed in his riding with him dominating both the track and the competition.
Sanders even ran back around part of the course to help a rider push their bike over the finish line after he had crossed the line, raising a raucous applause from a grateful crowd.
The race is over for another year, but I reckon the preparation for next year is already being planned to avoid the bitter pill of not finishing in first.
2018 Hattah Desert Race
1. Daniel Sanders (Husqvarna) 4h15m22.802s
2. Josh Green (Yamaha) 4h16m28.977s
3. Lyndon Snodgrass (KTM) 4h19m29.308s
4. Daniel Milner (KTM) 4h23m10.579s
5. Nathan Trigg (Sherco) 4h24m18.387s
Daniel Sanders – Husqvarna FE 501
“To qualify quickest was definitely positive and it was a gnarly race, one that was awesome to lead from start to finish for the win. The plan was to throw the hammer down straight away, to try pull a gap and maintain it, which we were able to do in the end. It was really dry and dusty, a hard race, but I just stayed focused and got the job done. I couldn’t thank the guys at the Husqvarna Enduro Racing Team enough for their efforts and it’s been a real team effort that has led to this result, so we’re really happy to get this victory together.”
Christian Horwood – Team Manager, Husqvarna Enduro Racing Team
“We’re absolutely over the moon to get the outright win at Hattah. ‘Chucky’ has put a mammoth effort leading up to this event and the whole team’s worked really hard, so it’s a big reward to get our first win – the Husqvarna FE 501s didn’t miss a beat. It was dominant ride for Daniel, controlling the race from the front, so we are of course really happy with the result. Fraser was also very impressive, making his way from 19th all the way to sixth by lap four, but then he had an issue in the pits. He ended up eventually finishing eighth, which was third in the 450 class, so we’re wrapt with the results from each of them and thank all of our supporters who were involved.”
Josh Green – P2
“This is always the hardest event of the year as it is so physically challenging,” Green begins. “It’s basically just a four-hour motocross race on a sand track with the only break you get is to refuel and then its wide open again for another lap. The track is always changing to. The sandy surface combined with so many riders means a small bump at the start of the first lap is a huge one by lap two and then by the end of the day is a sand dune. My team did an awesome job today and we were in the running all day. My hands are wrecked and I’m worn out now but glad to make it on the podium and get a good result for myself and the team.”
Lyndon Snodgrass – KTM 500 EXC-F – P3
“It was good to get back up on the podium again this year after what was a pretty tough race in the dusty conditions. It’s always positive to put the KTM 500 EXC-F on the outright podium, especially after that crash early on. That was on the first lap and I did have a few others along the way, which made it a little bit harder for myself, so that felt even better to bring it home in third. I tried hard the whole way, kept pushing as this year was a challenging one and I definitely had to work for it. I really appreciate all the effort put in by the KTM Enduro Racing Team!”
Daniel Milner – KTM 500 EXC-F – P4
“Today definitely wasn’t what I wanted and it was the most shattering Hattah I’ve done so far. We were sitting in second, trying to do what I pretty much did last year and we had a game-plan there, but unfortunately the bike wouldn’t re-fire following the pit-stop. Then I came together with a lapped rider when I got back on track, stalled it and couldn’t get going again, but I had some help trackside with people giving me the tools to fix what I needed to at that stage. That put me back to around 12th position, so I just kept charging from there and never gave up on my way to fourth outright and the class podium. For me, that was really disappointing, although we did what we could and I couldn’t ask for more from the KTM 500 EXC-F in terms of set-up. A big thanks to all that helped us with this event.”
Glenn Kearney – Motorsport Manager, KTM Australia
“We’re really proud of Lyndon to finish on the outright podium and congratulate him on that result, plus he and Daniel were both on the Over 450cc class podium. After a big crash on the first lap that damaged the radiator and shroud, he rode solid all day and finally worked his way back into third at the end. Unfortunately Daniel had a small crash and it somehow damaged the start switch, so when we turned the bike off in the pits it took some time to diagnose and rectify the issue. He had another problem when he stalled on track, but he showed his true character to come from way back and finish fourth. Everybody puts in a huge amount of effort for this, so thank you to all for their involvement.”
Nathan Trigg – P5
“I was really pumped on the first lap,” Trigg explained. “It was crazy but I hung onto Lyndon Snodgrass’s tail there for a bit. We were hanging together on the straights and the Sherco was holding its own. Around half way through the first lap I looked back and couldn’t see anyone behind me which was good and I just kept trying to charge it. The track was dry and chopped up rough but Chad’s Off-Road Setups had my bike spot-on,” said Trigg. “It got really rough out there but the track evolved from the heavy traffic and the square edge bumps were brutal. The last two laps I was feeling it but if you looked, you could still find some smooth lines by squaring up turns. It was really good fun.”