In 2018 the Tatts Finke Desert Race dished up devastating and brutal conditions. The dust and heat were cruel, even by Finke standards.
The Tatts Finke Desert Race has been running since the mid-1970s, and where it kicked off as a hoot for a few mates – they called it ‘There And Back’ and rode from Alice Springs to the Finke community and back again – in 2018 it’s a deadly serious challenge for Australia’s and the world’s best and ballsiest riders and drivers. In the 1980s the settlement at Finke changed its name to Apatula, but the race held its name and has become one of the greatest badges of courage in the off-road motorsport world.
To say, “Yeah, I’ve done Finke,” is to mark your ground as a serious and courageous competitor.
In 2018 the Fink had classes for bikes, buggies, quads and cars, and the starting grid was huge. For the cars Finke has the added bonus of being a round of the BF Goodrich CAMS Australian Off Road Championship (AORC), so there’s some heavyweight talent and finance fronting the start line.
A hectic, blood-rushing, prologue decided start positions, and to be up the front a car or buggy or bike needed to complete the circuit in something under five minutes. Quads were scored with the bikes.
After all the amazing glamour and hoohaa that accompanies this event each year, the competitors have to get their minds on the job. From Alice to Apatula is around 230km.
The whoops go for kilometres and are legendary for their size. The dust and heat are bad at any time, but in 2018 even the locals were shaking their heads and saying, “Geez. It’s crook.”
Anyone hoping for a good outright result needed to be able to handle that 230km of dust, heat and whoops in under two hours.
The rider or driver who could do that would stand on the podium at Alice Springs and lay claim to being King Of The Desert until the next June long weekend.
Then it happens all over again.
Cars and The Aorc
Shannon and Ian Rentsch in their Jimco Aussie Special Pro Buggy claimed a historymaking sixth King Of The Desert title, grabbing the lead in the BFGoodrich CAMS AORC in the process.
Rentsch dominated the event on his 16th attempt, leading from start to finish. The father-and-son duo started from pole position and set the fastest time from Alice Springs to Finke on day one, leading the pushed hard all the way, extending their lead to claim the outright win by more than 16 minutes in a time of 3:36:37.
David Fellows, himself a five-time Finke Desert Race winner, and Mark Bergaminn were second across the line in the Geiser Bros Trophy Truck, followed by 2016 Australian Off Road Champions Jack Rhodes and David Pullino in their Jimco Pro Buggy.
Rentsch never looked like losing the lead but was well aware of the hard-charging field keen to hunt him down.
“It’s awesome,” Rentsch said of his sixth Finke win after the race. “We’ve never won it from start to finish, so to get the prologue, lead down to Finke and then back to Alice… it’s pretty special.
“It’s probably up there with the best one we have done.
“Our truck would handle pretty good in the rough stuff so we just really kept going as quick as we could.”
Rentsch will now take a handy lead in the BFGoodrich CAMS AORC point score to the final round in Rainbow, Victoria.
“That’s a bonus,” said Rentsch.
“Finke is the biggest race for us. We don’t think too much about the championship when we’re there, but we should have a pretty handy lead heading to Rainbow now. It takes the pressure off from that point of view as well.”
Runner-up Fellows was thrilled with his 2018 Finke Desert Race, particularly to have both Peter Kittle Motor Company entries making the podium.
“It was a good weekend,” Fellows said.
“We had a pretty clear run on the way down and on the way back and to get on the podium with both cars is a great result.
“The set up was really good this year. My navigator Mark did a really good job of setting the car up and I really haven’t touched a thing, so I’ve got to congratulate him for giving us a good truck.”
Clearly, Fellows loves the event. “Trying to win this race is a challenge and while we’re enjoying it we’ll just keep coming back.”
Jack Rhodes was happy to claim third after a less-than-perfect weekend, rolling his buggy in prologue and starting down the order for the run to Finke.
“We started 13th and didn’t see much of the track until about the 120km mark, and then unfortunately saw an incident. The driver was all good, but we assisted him. Then we got back on the track and couldn’t see it again so it was a difficult weekend.”
Talbot Cox and Andrew North were impressive in their Racer Engineering Carbon Series Toyota to cross the line in fourth and Michael Marson and Chris Colbourne rounded out the top five.
Man of Steel
In the bikes all eyes were on 2016 Dakar winner, Toby Price.
It wasn’t that there weren’t plenty of other riders, and some very big names, but Price was, for the second time, attempting what he calls the ‘Iron Man double’.
Basically, Price runs down to Finke in a Trophy Truck, flies back to Alice Springs in time to jump on his bike and compete on two wheels as well.
Price set the fastest time in qualifying on his bike and fourth in the truck. He was second into Apatula in the truck and led the field on the bike. Unfortunately, despite a huge effort repairing the truck at Apatula, a powersteering failure meant he couldn’t complete the run back to Alice.
There was no-one close to him on the bike though. He led into Finke and back to Alice, finishing over 10 minutes ahead of the next rider.
Price was disappointed with the truck result after all the hard work from the Toby Price Motorsport team, but was extremely thankful for their efforts and the support of his valued sponsors.
“It was a hard pill to swallow,” he said. “Unfortunately we didn’t make it back in the Red Bull Trophy Truck due to a power-steering failure. We didn’t leave a stone unturned and the Toby Price Motorsport Team gave it a redhot crack to get me on that start line.”
Top 10 Outright
(bikes and quads)
#295 Toby Price
#299 David Walsh
#296 Jack Simpson
#221 Angus Kelly
#499 Caleb Auricht
#11 Lachlan Summers
#494 Jerakye Andrews
But while Price is making a name for himself in Trophy Trucks, it’s on the bike he’s an undisputed international champion.
After the disappointment with the truck Price flew back to the Finke start line for the return trip on the bike.
Leading the pack, Price stayed out in front and was able to recover from a fall100km from the finish line. He eclipsed the all-time record for bike wins, claiming his sixth Finke title in just nine years.
“It all went really well. We’re pumped,” grinned a dusty and tired Price. “We got our sixth win!
“The race was definitely hard. I had a little bit of a get-off around the 100km mark coming home, but overall I’m stoked. Six wins on the bike for KTM and it’s amazing we’ve got the record for all-time wins in that category. “Unfortunately we didn’t go as well in the truck category for the Iron Man double, but all in all it was good times and I’m happy everything is all wrapped up for the weekend! “Time to kick back and relax a little bit and celebrate with the team.”