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Australian Desert Off Road Racing - Doin' It Down Under

Dust Kick Up
Liz Swanton | Writer
Posted January 1, 2001
Photographers: Team OFF-ROAD

U.S. Racers Tackle Aussie Desert Race

Three Americans, including former 500cc GP Motorcycle Road Racer champ Kevin Schwantz, have successfully completed this year's gruelling Australian Safari and they want to do it again.

"Physically, I was prepared for it, but mentally, I struggled a bit," says Kevin Schwantz, summing up his cross-country rally debut in Australia's outback. "It's a long, hard event, but it's a blast."

It was a sentiment echoed by Casey McCoy and Bob Land, weary after eight days of racing through a country that included everything from dust, sand, rocks, and gravel to swamps, mud, and unseasonably high and fast-flowing streams.

Despite the demands of the unfamiliar territory, all three American entrants finished where others didn't. McCoy (Honda XR400) was the best, taking Second in the moto division while the former 500cc World Champion (riding a Suzuki DRZE400) took 13th outright in the division and Third in class.

Experienced desert-racer Bob Land took Ninth outright in the auto division in his second attempt at the Safari and First in class. Last year he ran a U.S.-spec Isuzu VehiCROSS, but he bought an Aussie-spec Trooper for this year's run and will garage it in Australia with the hopes of third-time-luckier next year.

The Australian Safari is an eight-day off-road rally held each year in the Australian outback. First conceived in 1985 as the Wynns' Safari (after the naming rights sponsor), it was renamed the Australian Safari in 1989, although the event only covers Australia's northernmost state - the Northern Territory. This year's Safari covered a little more than 2,500 miles. Of that, 1,504 miles were special competition stages run in loops from the start in the Central Australian town of Alice Springs (near the famous monolith Ayers Rock now known as Uluru) to the finish line at the north coast city of Darwin.

The event is open to off-road vehicles, buggies, quads, and bikes and is run according to FIA and FIM regulations. Unlike the SCORE series, competitors cover a certain distance in special stages each day with a service park each night. When the event moves north, so do the service crews, which can make it a logistical nightmare.

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