By ERWIN CHLANDA
When Victorians Ian and Shannon Rentsch (pictured) blasted home to win the Tattersalls Finke Desert Race this morning, they got a well-deserved thumbs up.
But the other half of the story is the sensational effort by hundreds of local volunteers, performing tasks ranging from cleaning dunnies to operating the Finke website, year after year, without pay.
Add to that the mechanical skills of dozens of local drivers and riders, building and fine-tuning their machines, and it’s a picture of a can-do town with few rivals.
One of the event’s most ardent supporters since the its start in 1976, Mayor Damien Ryan, gave a proud tally of jobs.
About a dozen people worked on track preparation for months. Another dozen were busy getting the headquarters up to scratch.
On this race weekend, around 20 people were mobilised, including water truck drivers and grader operators, putting the finishing touches to the track, marking it and driving the clearing vehicles.
About 40 flag marshals were needed right along the track.
More than 40 people manned the checkpoints, radioing information back to HQ.
Four people work in the HQ electronic area, and eight in the race control area where the stewards and officials are.
Four people were in the scoring tent, and at least 20 were marking off competitors when they left and returned.
About 40 volunteers were at the Finke checkpoint – the biggest outside Alice Springs – feeding competitors and event workers.
“A further 160 people were spread right across the event, from toilet cleaners, garbage picker-uppers, general helpers, whether they were at the start-finish line, at checkpoints en route or at Finke,” says Mr Ryan.
There were more than 300 volunteers this year.
Last year there were 175 first-time competitors. This year there were more than 200. Only 100 riders have ridden this race more than twice.
Only 21% of the 604 competitors are from the NT – showing the race is a major magnet for interstate and some overseas participants. (The majority of the 91 cars have two competitors in them.)
The age range of riders is 16 to 62. The oldest driver is 60.
The value of some of the racing machines is tipped to be as much as a quarter of a million dollars.
Mr Ryan says the top professionals in the race travel in semi-trailers, criss-crossing the nation from race to race: “They are set up to be away from home for a long time. All of those are very expensive units. There are eight of those here.”
There were 98 media personnel, including a motoring writer from the USA, feeding out TV, print and radio reports around Australia.
A not so good aspect – no fault of the organisers – was the dismal service provided by Telstra: mobile phones and WiFi facilities were critically overstretched, an unforgivable lapse considering the Finke has been a scheduled annual event for 37 years. This made news work extremely difficult.
Queenslander Billy Geddes, in his thirties, surely earned the title “Glutton for Punishment”, competing both legs of the race in a Geiser Brothers Trophy Truck (finishing 7th this morning), and on a KTM 500 motorbike, arriving in Finke in 2 hours and 16 minutes, and riding back to Alice at the time of writing this report.
He is the first ever to accomplish that feat, shuttling in a helicopter between events. “Maybe he’ll start a trend,” says Mr Ryan.