Bathurst’s Ben Grabham will join Victorian desert racer Matt Fish in a two-pronged assault as KTM attempts a fifth straight win in Australia’s iconic Finke Desert Race over this Queen’s Birthday weekend.
The event is a world-famous, two day, 440-kilometre outback blast from Alice Springs south to the small Aputula (Finke) community and back home again, where the top motorcycle competitors will regularly reach speeds around the 170kph mark.
The HSE Motorex KTM Off-Road Team rider, himself a four-time winner of the race, will be making his return as a competitor, for the first time since he suffered spinal injuries in a different event more than a year ago.
Australia’s most decorated off-road racer, Grabham was seriously hurt after a 150kph altercation with a mob of kangaroos in the Condoblin 750 early last year.
His incredibly determined recovery culminated in an appearance in the world’s biggest off road event – the Dakar Rally – in January, where as a rookie the 31-year-old finished an outstanding 15th in the 8000-kilometre, 14-day odyssey.
This time last year Grabham attended the 2012 Finke in a brace, the then champion supporting KTM’s Toby Price in what proved a successful bid for Price to win his second Finke title.
An unfortunate and ironic twist of fate now sees the roles virtually reversed, with Grabham eying the prize and Price the injured champion there to show his support, after he suffered spinal fractures in the US in April, while on a Baja Rally testing trip.
Apart from supporting his KTM team-mates, Price will also be there to say thanks to the legions of fans that have supported him during a difficult time – and of course to take in the action.
One man who hopes to be in the thick of that action is Grabham’s team-mate Matt Fish, himself a 2013 Dakar finisher. The 32-year-old proved he knows how to swing off a throttle when he finished third in the second stage of the Dakar in Peru, and with greater support and preparation for this year’s Finke, he hopes to improve upon last year’s fourth place into Alice on Monday.
One man whose right wrist may be twitching come Sunday morning is Manager of the HSE Motorex KTM Off-Road Team, Brad Williscroft, who will be operating in a solely managerial role this year.
Recent winner of the Darwin Kamfari, Williscroft loves competing in the top end and has ridden the past 11 Finke races, finishing on the podium an impressive five times.
“Finke is a huge week and a half. I’m from Bathurst and the closest I thing can relate it to is the 1000,” Grabham says.
“They’ll get 10,000 to scrutineering alone and there’ll be another 9000 people camping and spectating in the first 70 kays, that’s how keen people are to see the 500 bikes and 120 of the fastest buggies you’ve ever seen.
“This time last year I was in a brace so I’m very happy to be back. I’ve done everything I can so where that puts me I guess we’ll find out. Physically I’m even stronger and fitter than before but once you’ve been snapped in two and welded back together you can get cautious in places. We’ll see. You never know what can happen when the light turns green.”
“Well the place is really buzzing here and it’s a great atmosphere to be a part of. Last year I came in half way through the preparation as a fill in for Grabbo and Hollis, but this time I’ve done all the preparation and everything we can do to deserve a good result,” Matt Fish said.
“I’m really happy with my setup, the 450EXC is so the bike to have, I’d have been on one this year even if I wasn’t on the team.
“This is the start of a really hectic few months for me with Hattah, the Tri Series and the Oz Safari for KTM, so I’d love to do well here and get it off to a good start so I can and really take some momentum into the next few events.”
“We’re looking really good. On Grabbo’s final run they really nailed it with the fine tuning of the suspension,” Team Manager Williscroft said.
“Fishy’s going really well too and loving the bike and his setup so we’re hoping for a good run from the both of them on the weekend.
“The 450s are going really well overall. We’re getting speeds in the 170s out of them, and there are a lot of places where they’ll reach that. I’m sure on the weekend I’m going to be anxious and wish I was out there, but we’ve got the two boys firing, now it’s just a case of getting them down there safe and sound and at the pointy end.
“Everyone who comes here and does it seems to get addicted to the speed and the toughness of these races. A lot do it just to finish, and when you do you’ve achieved something because Finke’s pretty special.”
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