By OSCAR PERRI
Racing at Finke began in earnest today as competitors faced off in the prologue, competing to be first off the line in the two day race starting tomorrow morning.
The first spot is prized by those in the race, as it means you get to tackle the challenging first section of the track without a face full of dust kicked up by the other racers.
In the bikes Victorian rider Jack Simpson took out top spot, completing the 8.3km loop in just 4 minutes and 41 seconds, with 2019 winner, Alice Springs’ David Walsh (at right), just four seconds slower in second place.
In the cars, six-time bike champion Toby Price and navigator Joseph Weining (at top) were quickest around the track with a time of 4 minutes 38 seconds, nearly three seconds faster than their prologue winning time last race.
Price has been unable to finish either of the last two races, but hopes to play it smart and get a good run this year.
This will be the fourth time 25 year old Simpson has taken part in the race, with a third placing in 2018 being his best effort so far.
2019 third placer Beau Ralston was next quickest, while Walsh’s cousin Liam Walsh did his name proud to come in fourth in his first race at Finke. 2019 runner up Jacob Smith came in seventh quickest.
“It was a little bit nerve wracking, it being a brand new truck we didn’t quite know how it’d perform,” says Price.
Behind them were 2019 runners up Josh Howells and Eric Hume, then Beau Robinson and Shane Hutt. Robinson’s family have been racing cars at Finke for 26 years, but none have been able to claim a win so far.
Vice President Kelsey Branford says the cars are shaping up to be very competitive this year. She can’t predict a winner, saying any of the top 10 favourites are as good a chance as any to be first over the line.
“In the bikes I think Jack and David will tussle it out a bit, but David’s really good down that track.
“I do like Jacob Smith, he’s another one who’s raced so many times and come really close.
“The secret is consistency. Whoever can make sure their biker car doesn’t break down, wins.”
The race committee have been working closely with the NT government as well as the Alice Springs and Finke communities to ensure a safe event, and Ms Branford says it was a real sense of relief from the organisers when the racing began.
She says they had anticipated a smaller than usual crowd, but that was certainly not the case with all the grandstands packed out with spectators, and a line for the merchandise stall that stretched out for hundreds of metres.
Since the last race, new sponsorships from multinational companies Method Wheels and Redbull have put the race on the map, and allowed for the biggest prize money yet, the most on offer for any race of its type in the country: $10,000 each for bikes and car winner.
But Ms Branford says that the racers aren’t in it for the money anyway.
“If you ask any of the competitors, they would have spent 20 times what they win, just to be competitive, for them it’s about this being a recognised race that everybody in this sport wants to win.”
158 cars and 583 bikes will take off in the morning, just under full capacity. Among them will be a host of regional Victorians, many of whom were camping out at the border before the all clear to enter the NT came just days ago.
PHOTO at top (courtesy Finke Desert Race): Toby Price and navigator Joseph Weining airborne.