By ERWIN CHLANDA
The Finke, that grand fest of competitiveness, local can-do, fun and mateship is over again for a year, a boost not only to the town’s self-esteem – at times short in supply – but also its coffers.
Some 2000 desert racers and crew streamed into Alice Springs, spending $5m. That is the estimate of head organiser Antony Yoffa, based on a 2011 survey.
Add to that the spend of spectators from out of town, former locals coming back to see their mates or kids compete, and the many grey nomads on whose calendar The Finke looms large, and The Alice was in for a big shot in the arm.
The bike and quad field of 440 – 50 down on last year – included 181 first time competitors, showing word of this still unique event keeps getting around.
The fastest buggy – Hayden Bentley (03:42:36) from South Australia – was 20 minutes quicker than fastest bikes – the brothers Todd (04:02:08) and Jake Smith (04:06:03) from Condobolin, NSW.
Friday’s scrutineering attracted 6000 spectators – a quarter of the town’s population. There were 99 cars and buggies – 20 up on last year. 80% of entries were from interstate.
The event’s magic comes in part from being a point-to-point race, not a number of repetitive laps around a loop.
As for the spectators, it’s a mega party stretched out along the first 70 kilometres where three-quarters of the 12,000 strong crowd are camped for three or four days.
The Tatts Finke Desert Race is round two of the Australian Off-road Championships for cars and buggies.
The hardware and the infrastructure, including a $200,000 race control building nearing completion, is entirely financed by the club and available for community uses not just associated with the Finke.
The tracking of competitors with transponders carried by them, the national media feeds and the live web-base reporting – all these leave no doubt about the event’s professionalism.
The transponders are a flawless system for pinpointing between checkpoints the position of all competitors – a task previously done by observers at risk of missing the number on a vehicle flashing past.
The biggest distance between checkpoints is 65 km between the start / finish and Deep Well, but that’s where the majority of spectators are camped, and can be the eyes and ears of the organisers.
But here is what makes The Finke unique: It has just one paid employee, Giselle Greenfield, wife of Stephen who won the 1997, 1998, 2000 and 2004 Finkes on Honda bikes.
The club has just 20 members – yet there are another 350 volunteers, all unpaid, running the complex operation spanning 226 kilometres of desert track.
The NT Government lends a hand with vehicles, IT hardware and mapping. The NT Major Events officer in The Alice, Craig Markham, devotes around 80% of his time to The Finke.
The town council helps with personnel, scrutineering, bollards, a water truck, and networking. But the race is the gig of the fans and supporters.
A vital task that goes on all year is the awareness campaign “Don’t Be The Reason” (for the 39th Finke being cancelled): Don’t go on the track, leave your pets at home, be careful with fire and take your rubbish with you.
Over the last 10 years this message has been communicated to 12,000 students at school assemblies, says Mr Yoffa.
VIDEO: Hayden Bentley from South Australia limped home with a sick engine but still became the outright winner of the cars and buggy section of the 2013 Tatts Finke Desert Race.
The solo driver’s time over the 226 km day two section was 01:52:49, a minute and 10 seconds ahead of Victorians Shannon and Ian Rentsch.
Mark Burrows and Colin Hodge, from NSW, were in third place in 01:56:27.
The first locals across the line were Andrew Moles and Matthew Ryan, in 9th place, coming second in the Prolite class in 02:00:48.
See video above and go to the Finke site for more results.