ABOVE: When the dust settles, they’re all mates. From left – Ian Rentsch, Mark Bergamin, Dave Fellows, Shannon Rentsch, Stefani Raines and David Pullino. CENTRE: Shannon Rentsch with daughter Milla. BOTTOM: The winning car.
By ERWIN CHLANDA
The dream of becoming the King of the Desert, both in a car and on a bike, came to an inglorious end for Toby Price (pictured) this morning when apparently the steering pump on his trophy truck blew up.
But he easily won the bike section.
He had started second on Day Two of the Tatts Finke Desert Race, three minutes behind Shannon and Ian Rentsch, who made it their sixth win, a record for the event.
They finished an astonishing 17 minutes ahead of second place getters, David Fellows, with Gregory Rhodes and Mark Bergman taking it in turns as navigators.
Jack Rhodes and David Pullino were third, more than 19 minutes after the winners.
With dust a huge worry this year, not to have anyone in front of them on either day was a massive advantage for Shannon Rentsch and his father Ian as navigator.
“It was pretty special, up there with the best one we’ve done,” says Shannon Rentsch.
It wasn’t all plain sailing: The buggy’s computer could not be changed from the prologue fuel management setting to the one for the race, so on the south-bound leg the Rentsches were worried about running out of petrol.
The problem was fixed in Finke, and the run home was again clear air all the way.
Yet they had to race and not just drive: Toby Price started three minutes behind them and “I knew he would have been pushing pretty hard and that truck would handle pretty good in that rough stuff,” says Shannon Rentsch.
It wasn’t until 70 km south of Alice that they learned that Price’s truck had broken down. By that time Price had had dropped back a further two minutes behind, from three minutes to five.
In an earlier Finke the Rentsches had broken down two kilometres from the finish: “You worry about rattles and tyres going flat. You just have to keep your head together and bring it home,” Shannon Rentsch said today.
Is he a patient navigator, Alice Mayor Damien Ryan, acting as the MC on the podium, asked Ian Rentsch: “I just sit there and tell him to get going a bit quicker,” came the answer.
Ian Rentsch estimated the value of their car to be between $200,000 and $250,000. They are competing against Trophy Trucks worth $400,000.
Shannon Rentsch started racing at age 16. He is now 35. He won eight Australian championships.
Asked how come his fairly ordinary looking buggy leaves trophy trucks in the dust? “It is fast,” he says.
He describes the Finke as the hardest off-road race in Australia: “It’s very rough. The whoops – there is nothing else like it, really.”
Is it the most important to win? “That’s right. Yeah. It’s the biggest race for us.”
Finke stalwart Ryan says the new street party to kick off the event on Thursday turned out to be a “really family friendly night” followed by a crowd of 7000 “in the paddock out here, which is massive,” the following night.
The electric car, an Acciona, ran out of time at Mt Squires, about three-quartes of the southbound race. It had to re-charge batteries at Bundooma.
The car race has a deadline for reaching the finish so there is no conflict with the bikes racing in the second part of the day.
The Acciona is likely to be back next year, says Mr Ryan, perhaps with the husband of the driver, Andrea Peterhansel, in tow. He has won Dakar 13 times, six on a bike seven on a car.
“That would be a plus,” says Mr Ryan.
The competitors paid homage to Daymon Stokie, last year’s bike winner, killed in a race earlier this year.
“It was a hard moment,” says Mr Ryan. Every competitor was given a sticker with Stokie’s image to put on their vehicles, “in the spirit to take Daymon to Finke and back”.
“These guys, either cars or bikes, they are very much like one big team, except when they compete. They fiercely compete against each other,”says Mr Ryan.
But Jack Rhodes yesterday stopped to helped a competitor who had an accident. “If you didn’t have that, and people went, blow you, and kept going, it would be pretty a tough world,” says Mr Ryan.
“I was in Finke yesterday afternoon, and there were people taking bits off vehicles that had broken down to give to another bloke to get him home today. It’s pretty cool when you see that.”
Injuries are down, 16 people by last night, including a couple of spectators off the track. St John have about 50 staff spread over this course. It’s a huge commitment, says Mr Ryan.
The race took a huge mechanical toll: 130 cars started, 88 got to Finke in time. More than 600 bikes started yesterday, 498 started today.
Four Alice Springs riders are in the first 10 outright. They are David Walsh (2nd), Caleb Auricht (7th), Lachlan Summers (8th) and Jerakye Andrews (9th).