By ERWIN CHLANDA
Steve Sanderson has the Finke in his DNA.
“I was 10 when I started helping my father, all time,” he says.
His father, Wayne, drove buggies since 1996 in the now famous desert race.
By 2002 Steve was in the left-hand seat, navigating.
His first buggy was a 1600cc machine he bought, fixed up and raced in 2004.
In 2009 he raced a buggy in the Australian off-road championships.
In 2010 it became pretty well a full time occupation, becoming the PRO-Lite class Australian champion, winning his class in the Finke and finishing sixth outright.
This year, on June 7, Steve will be in the pilot’s seat of one of the world’s most advanced off-road racing vehicles, an American Jimco trophy truck with a six litre Chev V8 motor, churning out 740 horsepower at the flywheel. It’s the biggest engine allowed in the Australian Offroad Championships.
In Steve’s racing stable is also a Jimco buggy, to be driven by Greg Hicks.
Steve says the truck is superior with bigger wheels (39 compared to 35 inches – the Yanks haven’t switched to metric yet) and spring travel (24 inches front and 36 rear).
Size counts: “The truck handles bigger holes, bigger bumps better. But it’s not as agile as the smaller buggy.”
The truck’s power from the front-mounted engine gets to the rear “live diff” axle via an Australian built Albins six-speed sequential transmission, controlled from a “paddle” on the steering wheel: The driver can have both hands on it at all times.
Albins is the company that builds the gearboxes for the Super V8 racing cars.
Both vehicles can do the 220 kilometres to Finke without refuelling: The truck needs 240 litres and has a 300 liter tank. The buggy will use 200 litres (a litre per kilometre) and has a 260 litre capacity.
Steve truck had its first run of this year’s five race championship in Mildura: “We came first in class in the truck and ninth overall. The buggy did not finish.”
What everyone asks, but no-one is told (except in a roundabout way), is the cost of these vehicles. Standing in his shed Steve says the cars are worth “lots”.
“There’s the value of two decent size houses in this shed or one really, really, really big house.”
The truck was love at first sight.
Steve and his team flew to the US last year, bought it and raced it in the Parker 425, over 750 kilometers.
“You don’t leave the vehicle in nine hours,” he says.
“The Americans like doing everything bigger, better and faster. It was a brutal race.
“We finished 27th overall out of a field of about 300 cars, and 17th in class.
“It was our first go in the truck. It went flawlessly, all time.”
Parker is between Los Angeles, California, and Phoenix, Arizona.
Does Steve have a rich uncle to pay for all of this?
The cash comes from advertising, for his family’s businesses, he says.
Steve owns an electrical and civil engineering company, JAWS Contracting (NT).
As off-road racing gains in popularity – it’s “big” in the US already – third party sponsorship will grow, says Steve.
But that’s only part of the story: “We’re doing it for the fun of it, for the love of it. If you want to go fast on dirt, this is it.”
PHOTOS (from top): Steve and mechanic Darren Boots (at right) with the massive front spring and shock absorber assembly of the trophy truck • The truck’s engine and transmission assembly • Steve’s buggy, to be driven by Greg Hicks.
By ERWIN CHLANDA