Australian Safari Cross-Country Rally

Dec. 22, 2002 By Liz Swanton
Battle for Downunder's Desert Crown

Mention the Australian outback and most people think of the Red Centre, the very heart of the great southern land. But every state in Australia has its own share of outback terrain. This year, the famous Australian Safari cross-country rally moved base from the Centre to the more easily accessible eastern state of New South Wales. Conditions were tough and so was the battle.

Motorsport Mecca of Australia

Even for those Australians who have no interest in car racing, the city of Bathurst is famous. It's the country's motorsport mecca, home of one of the most demanding street circuits in the world, Mt Panorama.

Each October, thousands of the faithful make their way to the Mountain, as it is generally known, to watch the touring car race known as the Bathurst 1000 - 161 laps of the circuit equals 1000 kilometres.

KTM 660 Rallye: Factory KTM rider Andy Caldecott raced to victory in 25 hours, 04 minutes and 41 seconds aboard his 660 Rallye for an overall win.

One man has won the race an awe-inspiring nine times and that is Australian touring car legend, Peter Brock, who has a long history with Holden, the Australian affiliate of General Motors.

The charismatic Brock retired from touring car racing in 1997 and then took up cross-country rallying, also with Holden, which is why he was one of 69 competitors (37 Moto; 32 Auto) converging on Bathurst in late August this year for the first-ever running of the Australian Safari in New South Wales. While the inland city, three hours' drive west of the NSW capital of Sydney, is blasé about motorsport invasions, it is never immune to 'Brocky' (#05) and it is fair to say that the Safari has never had so much spectator interest as it did this year.

It's also fair to say that the organisers - giant sports and event marketing group, Octagon - were mindful of spectator enthusiasm as well as the interests of sponsors and competitors when they decided to move the event out of the Northern Territory. The remote location of the previous events meant a commitment of around two weeks for anyone involved, huge expense for competitors and limited TV exposure because of the difficulty of getting vision out of the area, none of it conducive to encouraging the numbers the event needed to survive. And so to Bathurst.

The Safari is eight days of competition but the race itself starts the day before with a Prologue to determine starting order. The one-mile course would be tackled by all the bike riders and 'car' entrants to decide who would be first out on the first day of the 3000-mile rally.

While the Safari is a stand-alone event on the Australian motorsport calendar, it also served this year as a round of the FIM's international cross-country rallies World Cup which ensured a solid entry list from overseas as well as local riders more familiar with the variety of conditions that the Australian 'bush' can toss at the unwary.

There were plenty of favourites in the Moto division. Entrants this year included 2002 Paris-Dakar runner up Alfie Cox (#4) of South Africa, America's Casey McCoy (#3) who has had podium finishes in the events of recent years, and local stars Stephen Greenfield (#2), Andy Haydon (#7) and Andy Caldecott (#1).

Cox, Haydon and Caldecott were riding factory-backed KTM machines while Greenfield had backing from Honda. Cox emerged as the fastest of the 37 bike riders, earning the right to start first on day one of the event, a 300-mile leg from Bathurst, further west to Condobolin. Caldecott, who has won the event the last two years, came home sixth fastest.

KTM Rallye Replica: Coming in for a fourth in the motorcycle division, PG Lundmark clears a corner before the scenic Australian Outback.

There was an upset of equal proportions in the Auto division. Four-time champion Bruce Garland (Holden Jackaroo/Isuzi Trooper - #50)) was third fastest behind fellow Safari regulars Andy Brown (Holden Frontera) and Colin Hunter (Jeep Wrangler).

Garland blamed a last-minute engine change for his lack of pace. The champ was not able to run his usual 'tweaked' special due to a controversial change in fuel rules but, as he was quick to point out, the race is not won on the first day.

'Brocky' was not present to contest the Prologue, leaving that duty to his navigator, well-known Australian motoring and motorsport journalist Wayne Webster who has extensive circuit and rally driving experience in his own right.

Brock had committed the Saturday night to a 'Legends of Motorsport' kart race in the northern coastal city of Darwin - and suffered his worst-ever racing accident during the event, which left him with severe back pain. He was to battle that pain the entire week of the Safari, the rough and gruelling desert racing conditions hardly what his doctor would have ordered in the interests of resting such an injury.

Day One: Bathurst to Condobolin - 300 miles

Day One dawned with a typically Central Western NSW clear blue sky as several thousand Bathurst locals flocked to the famous circuit to watch 'Brocky' lead the field around the track and out of town to the starting point of competition.

While the full day was a 300-mile trek, competition was limited to around 100 miles in two against-the-clock stages. At the end of play, everyone was surprised but pleased to see the obviously suffering Brock in third place behind highly experienced desert campaigner John Hederics (Nissan Patrol - #54) who has won the event six times on bikes, and Steve Riley (Mitsubishi Montero - #61), another convert from the two-wheel brigade. Brock's team leader, Bruce Garland, was fourth, slowed by two punctures.

Honda XR650: Casey McCoy blasted into position in his Red Machine for a fifth in the motorcycle division.

However, the excitement about Brock's result was to be shortlived. When all times were tallied, it was discovered that the 'legend' and his co-driver had inadvertently failed to complete one of the two stages. They were penalised 17 minutes which pushed them back down the order to 11th for the start of Day Two.

In the Moto division, Condobolin local Paul Sinderberry (#6) had caused an upset, winning the day against the powerful KTM crew. His privateer Honda XR650 gave him a lead of just over a minute against defending champion Andy Caldecott (KTM 660 Rallye) but he denied that local knowledge had been much help.

The maps were a major headache for Alfie Cox, who finished in eighth spot after starting the day as first bike out. He was having trouble making the change in navigational tools, having used a Global Positioning System to take him to the podium in the Paris-Dakar.

Day Two: Condobolin to Griffith, 350 miles

John Hederics had started the 2002 Safari, hoping to become the first competitor to win the event on both four wheels and two. He seemed on track until just three miles short of the end of the second day when he crashed into trees.

The incident damaged both rear wheels and the differential of his Nissan Patrol. He and co-driver Kees Weel made some hasty repairs which allowed them to finish the day but the delay relegated them to ninth.

"I'm really disappointed because apart from a puncture I'd been having a good run until this happened. I was following a bike in the dust when I clipped a tree, spun around and slammed into another tree. It tore the back out of the car. It is going to be hard to win from here but I haven't given up because everyone else is bound to have a bad day too and we've had ours!" Hederics said, with a laugh.

Isuzu Trooper: Bruce Garland drove his Izuzu Trooper to a first overall in the four-wheel vehicle division in 27 hours, 36 minutes, and 33 seconds.

As is so common in motorsport, one man's misfortune is another's gain and it was four-time Safari champion Bruce Garland who benefitted from the Hederics crash. He moved up from fourth to first while Steve Riley (Mitsubishi Montero) moved to second.

"It's incredibly dusty because they're having such a bad drought out here, so we drove conservatively and concentrated on getting our navigation spot-on and trying to keep making any mistakes to a minimum. You need to be very patient in these conditions," Garland said.

Aside from Hederics' incident, it was also a bad day for Colin Hunter who had posted second fastest time in the Prologue. Radiator problems were his headache.

In the Moto division, defending champion Andy Caldecott had grabbed the lead from Paul Sinderberry but not without drama. He admitted to pushing aggressively and crashed once in the process.

"I went out hard to try to catch Paul in the first section and I made some mistakes. But you do have to take some risks. I had one 'get-off' when I clipped a stump and it threw me down. Apart from a sore elbow, there is no damage."

Caldecott's teammates Andy Haydon and Alfie Cox (both on KTM 660 Rallyes) finished the day in third and fourth, while Casey McCoy rounded out the top five on his Honda XR650.

Nissan Frontera: Andy Brown piloted his Holden-built Nissan Frontera to a fifth in class in 29:05:33.

Day Three: Griffith to Wentworth, 600 miles

While the competition continued to be tough on one of the longer days of the event, it was action in the air rather than on the ground that made headlines during this section.

Four people, including the Safari's clerk of course, Bob Carpenter, were lucky to escape injury after the event helicopter crashed. The official Jet-Ranger was badly damaged after making contact with a tree while it was hovering about 15m off the ground. Also in the chopper were the pilot, the event's medical officer and a TV cameraman who was filming some of the chase below.

"The back rotor hit the tree and it chopped off the tail boom," Carpenter said later.

"Then we went sideways and swung round and that's when the main rotor hit the tree. We were riding sideways to the ground and somehow Peter (the pilot) managed to straighten it up and luckily for us it landed on its skids. The whole thing was over in less than 10 seconds but it seemed a whole lot longer."

Despite safety regulations requiring a chopper in the air for the entire duration of the event, there has never been a problem for Safari organisers in all the years since the event began in 1985. Immediately after the accident, officials were able to locate another chopper and the lucky foursome resumed their travels, the whole incident delaying the event for only 20 minutes.

Meanwhile defending champions Bruce Garland (Auto) and Andy Caldecott (Moto) retained their respective leads. Garland extended his lead to nearly 15 minutes over second-placed Steve Riley (Mitsubishi Montero) but Caldecott's buffer over Paul Sinderberry was only just over a minute.

Nissan Patrol: John Hederics grabbed a fourth in class in his Nissan Patrol in 28:09:30.

By this stage, America's Casey McCoy had moved through the field to sixth place and was hoping he could improve on his previous best result in the event which was third in 2000.

"This year's course is quite different to what I experienced in the Northern Territory in previous years. It's a fun mix though, lots of tight stuff as well as some fast, high-speed corners," said McCoy.

"There seems to be more emphasis on navigation this year and I've had to go back and find my way a couple of times. The tighter sections are probably best for me. I'm playing a bit of a waiting game because it's a classy field and some guys may start to push over the limit as we go on."

Australian touring car legend Peter Brock was sitting in 12th place, nearly an hour behind his teammate Garland. He admitted to still suffering a lot of pain as a result of his go-kart accident earlier in the week but brushed aside suggestions that he could withdraw from the event.

Day Four: Wentworth to Broken Hill, 500 miles

Defending champions Bruce Garland and Andy Caldecott had a profitable day, both extending their leads over their closest rivals, Steve Riley and Andy Haydon respectively.

Mitsubishi Montero: Steve Riley was second minutes from clinching first overall in the four-wheel division, but instead had to settle for a respectable second, coming in at 27:52:30.

Conditions changed yet again. This time the competitors found themselves in serious desert terrain with lots of tumbleweed being tossed in the light winds which did little to help settle the dust.

Some man-made drains on parts of the course had many vehicles airborne but no-one had any serious problems as a result except for Brock, who found his injured spine being knocked around beyond the point of comfort.

"My biggest problem is going over the rough stuff, so I'm driving more conservatively than normal," Brock said. "Having said that, though, we're still leading the showroom class and that's what we're here for so it's all good news."

Day Five: Broken Hill to White Cliffs, 450 miles

Crash, bang, wallop would be the three words that best described this section. While Garland managed to maintain his lead despite rolling his factory-backed Jackaroo, former Moto division winners Andy Haydon and Stephen Greenfield were forced to withdraw after both were injured in crashes.

In a testament to rallying camaraderie, Garland was able to continue thanks to the generosity of fellow competitor, John Hederics, who used his Nissan Patrol to pull Garland's car back on its wheels.

Toyota Series RV: Peter Glennie drove his Toyota to third in the four-wheel division in 28:02:38.

"I lost time today but it could have been so much worse if John hadn't stopped to help. If not for the bad luck he suffered earlier in the event, it would have been him in the lead, so I'm very grateful for his help.

"The roll-over happened when I missed a call around a dam and came up to a corner too quickly. I stopped on the edge of the cliff into a dry creek bed and then the bank collapsed and the Jackaroo rolled over."

In the Moto division, Andy Caldecott retained his lead with early leader Paul Sinderberry again making up some ground as well as benefitting from Andy Haydon's crash.

Haydon, who won the event in 1997, injured his knee in a spectacular crash while dicing with Caldecott. He continued for a while but was eventually forced to withdraw because of the pain.

"Andy had just passed me so I saw everything from behind," said Caldecott.

KTM Pits: The Orange Team had their work cut out for them, working long into the night after each leg to come up with an overall victory.

"The bike went sideways on a bump and then it dug in and pitched him over the handlebars. We've reached the point where people are trying hard to win so the pressure was on.

"It's disappointing to see a couple of the top guys get hurt and for sure I'm now changing my tactics. I've got nothing to gain by pushing too hard but I've also got to stay competitive and consistent to keep the lead. It's a fine balancing act from now on, that's for sure."

Greenfield was taken to hospital by ambulance after breaking his ankle in the first stage of the day. There were also several withdrawals by car crews after mechanical problems.

Day Six: White Cliffs to Cobar, 600 miles

For defending champions Garland and Caldecott, this was to be a day of hastening slowly. Both know how easy it is to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory and both had a lot to lose.

Tire Trouble: Tires took a brutal beating in the harsh Australian Outback.

Photo Champ: Mark Horsburgh does when any topnotch photographer would have done, gets down into the excitement at a water crossing.

Caldecott admitted feeling a little pressure because second-placed Paul Sinderberry had reduced the gap between them, but said his aim was simply to keep things steady.

"Losing a few minutes here or there isn't going to make that big a difference so there's no point in taking unnecessary risks that could bring me undone."

Behind them a veritable United Nations of competitors: South Africa's Alfie Cox, Sweden's PG Lundmark and America's Casey McCoy, also doing their best to keep things tidy.

Day Seven: Cobar to Dubbo, 450 miles

Cotton farmer Peter Glennie was trying to keep his excitement under control. For the first time since he made his Safari debut in 1988, he was on target for a podium finish. His previous best results were fourth in 1990 and the same again in 1995.

Glennie conceded he had no chance of ousting either Garland or second-place-sitter, Steve Riley, but was not concerned.

"I've been doing the Safari for more years than I care to remember and to get to the podium would be enormously satisfying. My Toyota was built in 1995 so it's older than the cars up the front. I also do most of the preparation and maintenance myself, so being this close is great."

For Riley, the day was frustration itself. He was actually nearly two minutes faster than Garland overall but admitted he had little chance of changing places with the champ.

In the Moto division, it was another day of maintaining positions, with the top three - Caldecott, Sinderberry and Cox - unchanged, although Cox had a minor crash while challenging for second.

Sunk: Water became big trouble for a number of teams, particularly for this motorcycle team whose bike was submerged.

At the end of eight days, the result was just as last year's champions would have wished: Garland took out the Auto division yet again, a record fifth victory with four - including this year - in succession.

For Caldecott, it was a third successive win and, he said, the most satisfying because of the quality of the field. Garland agreed. Brock finished 11th outright and first in class.

A field of 32 cars and 37 bikes started the Safari. At the end of Day Eight, there were 23 cars and 29 bikes to take the chequered flag.


RESULTS - Four-Wheel Vehicles

  1. Garland/Suzuki - Holden Jackaroo/Isuzu Trooper - 27:36:33
  2. Riley/Doble - Mitsubishi Montero - 27:52:30
  3. Glennie/Clark - Toyota Series RV - 28:02:38
  4. Hederics/Weel - Nissan Patrol - 28:09:30
  5. Brown/Styles - Holden Frontera - 29:05:33

RESULTS - Motorcycles

  1. Andy Caldecott - KTM 660 Rallye - 25:04:41
  2. Paul Sinderberry - Honda XR 650 - 25:29:43
  3. Alfie Cox - KTM 660 Rallye - 25:44:49
  4. PG Lundmark - KTM Rally Replica - 27:13:40
  5. Casey McCoy - Honda XR 650 - 27:48:17
For Race Information
Australian Safari 2003
123 Moray Street
South Melbourne, VIC 3205
Telephone 61 (0)3 9685 3500
Fax 61 (0)3 9686 6660
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