At its first official outing the KTM Desert Racing Team has scooped the biggest off road racing event on the Australian calendar, with Toby Price winning his third Finke crown at the 39th running of the Tatts Finke Desert Race in Alice Springs.
In doing so, the KTM 500 EXC rider completed one of the most spectacular comebacks in the sport’s history, having watched last year’s event in a neck brace following a broken neck suffered in April last year.
The 2010 and 2012 winner quickly made his intentions clear, topping Saturday’s Prologue times by two seconds before bursting out of the blocks on Sunday to reach Finke in a time of 1:58.43, two minutes clear of David Walsh.
Price’s KTM teammate Ivan Long was less than a minute further back, with KTM Desert Racing Team Manager Ben Grabham seventh fastest.
With masterful control Price kept a small margin in hand during today’s 240-kilometre return leg, conceding just 23 seconds of his lead and ensuring the most prestigious prize in desert racing would return to his and KTM’s respective trophy cases.
Leaving Finke third this morning, last year’s fifth placegetter Long had a mighty crack at Walsh’s second position, unleashing a 1:56.48 return leg which would turn out to be the fastest of the day.
It unfortunately left him just 11 seconds shy of second, but stretched him more than three minutes clear of fourth.
Four-time Finke champion Ben Grabham battled with an ailing wrist on the return leg, finishing 11th outright and 4th in the 451cc & Above 4-stroke class won by Price, but found, on the occasion of his debut as a Team Manager, the outright victory to be sufficient compensation.
Seventeen-year-old KTM 250 SX-F rider Wayde Carter blitzed the 250cc 4-stroke class on debut, ahead of similarly mounted Robbie Armstead, while KTM-mounted Tayla Jones – the first female home by about 50 minutes – was an astonishing fourth in the class in 59th outright.
KTM riders dominated the Finke; winning 5 of the 10 classes, including the Up to 250cc 2-stroke class won by Nathan Trigg, the 251cc & Above 2-Stroke Class where Tasmanians Lincoln and Connor Bird finished first and second aboard KTM 300 EXCs, and the Quads 40 years + which went to Eddie Tattingham.
Toby Price: “Two minutes ahead at Finke was a lot better than two behind, but it was no guarantee. I went quicker in my time on the way back, but I tried not to go overboard through the whoops, and just keep it on two wheels. I could have gone quicker still, but I didn’t need to. The body was pretty good, my hand flew off the bars on the way down which jarred it and then I rode a little bit different so that blistered up a little, but overall fitness was pretty good. Everyone worked so hard to get this one back, Northstar Logistics, Equiprent, Smith and Broughton and Pit’n’Portal, Ben Grabham, Leisky, GDR Suspension, everybody from cooking to training, organising parts, bikes, the mechanics, they all worked really hard to make this Finke a lot easier.
I think it’s going to be really hard to wipe the smile off my face for a while – I’ve put in the work but I was never sure I could come back to this level after my injury, and be able to go flat out the whole way. It feels great to get that monkey off my back, and I feel like I can put the neck injury in my past and forget about it and go back to doing what I normally do.”
Ivan Long: “I got caught out a little with my setup on the way down – it was softer than I thought it was going to be and the whoops were bigger so I made a small change last night and today I felt comfortable to push it a bit. I was stoked to crack 1.56 on the way home, and so happy with my fitness. That red bike gave me something to chase and I tried all the way home. I was hoping to sneak up but he saw me at Rodinga at the second fuel stop. I had to back off a little in the dust, but then put the head down and charged all way from Deep Well. I got close to finishing second, but not quite. In the end it’s all a stepping stone for two years up the track.
This race is so exciting, it’s just ridiculous the speed over the whoops is just out of control. The KTM 500 EXC is the bike to ride out here. It’s fast, nimble and the horsepower is so usable.
It’s been great working with the KTM crew, we have a lot of fun but on race day it’s all serious, so it’s great to have a good result.”
Ben Grabham, Team Manager: “The whole team has just done an amazing job. I’ve said it before Toby is the fastest rider I’ve ever seen and I didn’t expect any less of him than this. I’ve won it four times but this is one of the most satisfying feelings ever, as a Team Manager, to get two boys on the podium – Ivan for the first time, and Toby coming back.
There is a massive group of boys and girls here, looking after all the aspects of our race without which we be nowhere and I’m very grateful to them.
As for my race, I’d say the bike was amazing but the rider was average. My back and my wrist are making it tough to do what I used to do, and when you are four-time champ anything other than first place is disappointing, so my goal was always to get either Toby or Ivan across the line first, and to have been successful at that in my first go as Team Manager is fantastic.”
Wayde Carter: “That was awesome, I only had a couple of moments on the way down, and none really on the way back. I knew I had a bit of a lead in the class so I could be a bit more careful on the way back. Everything went quite well for me, the bike held up well, my hands held up after Tim Cole taped up for me, and the whole experience was awesome. I’ll definitely be back, hopefully on a bigger bike.”
Tatts Finke Desert Race Provisional Results:
- Toby Price 03:56:29
- David Walsh 03:58:12
- Ivan Long 03:58:23
- Josh Green 04:02:38
- Daymon Stokie 04:03:37
- Jack Dooley-McDonnell 04:11:38
- Todd Smith 04:11:49
- Michael Walsh 04:12:17
- Jared Ewin 04:15:38
- Caleb Auricht 04:16:11
- Ben Grabham 04:20:45
Active8 Yamaha Report
A mystery stomach bug that saw both Active8 Yamaha’s Josh Green and Tom McCormack in hospital in the lead up and during the 2014 Finke Desert Race, ruined the teams’ chances for a top result at the iconic event last weekend.
Despite constant vomiting and diarrhoea, as well as getting treatment in hospital throughout the event, Josh Green battled his way to an impressive fourth place finish in the two day event. Green literally turned green the day prior to the prologue stage and checked himself into hospital to seek treatment and get fluids into him via a intravenous drip.
He then returned for the Prologue stage to post a qualifying position inside the top 15 before returning to hospital and again going on a drip. Amazingly, he was cleared for racing and went on to finish the run from Alice Springs to Finke on day one in fourth place outright and happy to make it through the day.
Day two and still not even close to 100%, Green was out to finish the event and secure a top five finish. In what must be considered the ironman performance of the event, Green bought his YZ450F home in fourth place and just missed a podium finish Outright yet managed second in the 450cc division.
“That wasn’t much fun,” Green uttered at the end of the race. “I felt weak, dehydrated and generally not well and this isn’t the kind of race you want to feel anything less than 100%, so my focus was just trying to get through it as best I could.
“Finishing fourth isn’t bad under the circumstances but as a team we did a lot of work for this event and it’s disappointing to get sick as it was about to start.
“The team again did a great job and gave me a lot of support both in the lead up and during the race and the bike was awesome, I just wish I could have given them 100% in return,” Green ends.
Team mate Tom McCormack succumbed to the same virus and was unable to compete. McCormack battled through the prologue stage and like Green, seeked hospital treatment in the hope of feeling better on race day.
Unfortunately for McCormack, he was unable to get a medical clearance to compete and didn’t start the event.
“I’m shattered! I feel like I have let a heap of people down as I couldn’t even start the race,” McCormack said. “I was really looking forward to this event and worked hard in the lead up to prepare so to not even get the chance to race is hard to take.”
Beau Ralston participated in his first Finke event and produced a very respectable 13th place. Mounted on a YZ450F, Ralston gained valuable experience in his debut race and looks forward to returning next year and putting that knowledge to use.
“It’s not like any other race I have done,” Ralston said. “Everyone had told me about it but it’s nothing like it until you experience it. I learned a lot about bike set up, reading the terrain and what I need to do to prepare so I Iook forward to the 2015 race and achieving a better result.”
Adventure racer and current Australian Safari Champion, Rod Faggotter, also lined up with the Active8 Yamaha team and managed to win the 35-39 years Vets class as well as pull down 22nd place outright. This format of the Finke race is different to what Faggotter usually faces but he did more than hold his own and found it good preparation for his upcoming endurance events.
Yamaha also won the ATV division with Mitchel Van Vliet making it back to back victories at Finke on his YZF450.