First-time Finke winners, Jack Rhodes and David Pullino.
By ERWIN CHLANDA
“I would say it is a top 10 event” in Australian motorsports, says Chad Neylon, a presenter for Airtime Media, the television Network Ten and Fox Sports News, commenting on the Tatts Finke.
“The interesting thing for me is that it’s climbing.
“When I got involved three years ago it was a bit lower. I think it is rising with the level of Toby Price’s fame. The bigger Toby gets the bigger this event gets.
“More and more people are actually hearing what this event is. It’s not the small club-run event that it once was. It’s actually now more of a motorsport giant in Australia. Which is fantastic.”
Covering it for television is “an incredible challenge. You start in one area and finish in another. In circuit racing you end up in the same spot every time.
“And then when something happens, like when Toby Price (pictured on Day One) pulls up in the middle of the desert, you want to get that interview, that story, but it’s just impossible without extreme resources.”
Did he get to him on location?
“No, it was just too far out. Without a helicopter and a huge budget for just getting around you wouldn’t be able to do it.
“It’s hard to compare it to other forms of motorsport but it’s very exciting, very challenging to cover. That challenge almost adds to the adventure.
“I compare it to covering an ironman triathlon. You’ve got the pros and the people with budget, the guys out there who want to win it.
“And then you’ve got the guys who want to finish it. And at either end of the scale you get some amazing stories, whether it be from a competition or a human interest point of view,” says Mr Neylon (at right).
“There is a father – daughter combination, David Ellsworth and Imogene Ellsworth.
“She is only 14, straight-A student, plays a violin, she’s a fabulous talker, and here she is going racing with dad on the weekend.
“They drove 38 hours from Brisbane to get here. They do it because they love it. She wants to race buggies herself.
“Here they are, the whole family and the dog.
“I think Imogene’s little sister is going to co-pilot next year.”
As it turned out they didn’t finish Day One and didn’t start on Day Two.
“Another great story is the Returned Service League team. They have a three car operation. They use motor sports as a way to help veterans to deal with mental and physical injuries, get through life.
“They are tackling the Finke as an element of danger which they quite like, being veterans.”
Mr Neylon says the assistance from Finke officials is invaluable.
“I find the officials here are very friendly compared to some other forms of motorsport. A little bit of authority can get to people at times.
“The people here have been really helpful, not just the organising committee but every single official. Which is great, because ultimately we’re helping them to put Finke’s best foot forward.”
Another member of the Airtime Media crew, Greg Rust (at left), with 20 years motor racing reporting under his belt, says “this is without doubt one of the toughest events to cover, but at the same time it’s an absolute joy.
“Our objective is to tell the competition aspect, but also the great human interest stories: A 16-year-old on his L-plates doing the race for the first time, on a motorbike.
“People who have been battling cancer, and this is a bucket list thing for them while they continue to battle cancer.
“I am as much impressed by what happens at the very front of the race as I am by people for whom just getting down to Finke is a massive achievement, let alone getting back, massive!
“It’s steeped in history. It may not be as long as other international off-road events like Baja 1000 in America but it’s uniquely tough in its own Australian way.
“You just can never think you have it in the bag.
“Look at Toby Price, with that massive advantage, more than seven and a half minutes [ahead on Day One] and today the heartbreak.
“You’re lulled into that false sense of security. Finke can beat you. The track is just like that,” says Mr Rust.
“Each form of motorsport has its own unique challenges, but for the physicality, how brutal it is for the competitor and the machine, within Australia not much beats it.
“Having come a few times now you can understand why people are lured back.”
He says the 350 volunteers running the event are “another huge story, to bring all these people together on pure passion for Alice Springs, the NT and especially this event.
“The Confederation of Australian Motorsport gave it ‘event of the year’.
“And every year you come the organisers are doing things to keep improving its stature.”
Race photos courtesy Tatts Finke Desert Race.