Leongatha’s Steve Riley and navigator John Doble, far right, celebrate their podium finish at the conclusion of the Australasian Safari in Western Australia.
BOGGING the ute in the Western Australian desert, and an 11 minute penalty saw the RileyMotorsport team slip into third place in the Australasian Safari last week.
The team, led by Leongatha’s Riley, had been in first place since Day 2 of the endurance race in their modified V8 Holden Ute.
The tough conditions of the route had their support team, which includes a strong contingent of South Gippslanders, working through the nights to have the ute ready for action.
The support team includes: Navigator John Doble (NSW), mechanic Chris Stone, sponsor Trevor Hanks formerly of Meeniyan, Leonie and Alan Hanks of Leongatha, Paul and Seb Borg of Korumburra, Milton Hill of Leongatha, Troy McAinch formerly of Yanakie and Len Hobba.
The team won all the stages on Day 2, from Murchison to Gascoyne Junction, and took the overall lead after starting in seventh place.
On Day 3, around Gascoyne Junction, RileyMotorsport started from pole position and took a 13 minute overall lead into Day 4.
The morning racing of Day 3 went smoothly, however the afternoon over 288 kilometres was a challenge.
“It was one of the toughest stages we have ever experienced in our Safari careers!” Steve reported.
Problems with fuel pressure, vague map references, a pack of wild camels and blind corners all caused problems for the team.
On Day 4, local flooding was an upset to the Safari, with some routes repeated to make up for the disruption.
The team also dropped back to 15th place, before a compassionate ruling from the judges which returned RileyMotorsport back into first place.
Riley and Doble spotted an injured motorcyclist with a broken shoulder, injuries and concussion. Riley and Doble settled down the dazed motorcyclist and waited with him until a helicopter arrived to evacuate him to Exmouth hospital.
In addition to the lost time, Riley and Doble had communication problems which tested their skills.
Luckily, the two are very experienced racing with each other and through sign language and signals were able to negotiate their way around a broken intercom system which connects the driver and navigator through insulated racing helmets.
All through the night the support team worked to fix fuel pressure issues and the intercom system to have the ute ready for an early 4am start on Day 5 for racing around Exmouth.
Riley reported they finished one of the repeat stages, nine minutes faster than on Day 4; RileyMotorsport winning Stage 1 of 160 kilometres and Stage 2 of 208 kilometres to take a 17 minute lead.
The last day stage started badly for RileyMotorsport with an 11 minute penalty following an incident on Day 5 with some motorbikes and a quadbike.
Riley and Doble started in second, one minute behind the lead car and plenty of sandy track to make the Safari challenging.
Riley and Doble quickly caught up with the leading car, but after that, the team hit difficulties – clouds of dust disorientated the navigator and with rain pouring down, the ute slipped off the road and got bogged.
Riley said he used the ute’s hydraulic jacking system but the mud would not let go; subsequently the jacking system was also bogged and “acted as an anchor”.
Six cars stopped and attempted to tow out the ute, but all were unsuccessful.
Finally Bruce Garland stopped and managed to pull them out after six attempts.
This whole episode took 55 minutes and with the poor conditions and weather, the officials cancelled this stage sometime after Riley and Doble had passed this point.
So as Riley and Doble drove to the finish line and waited in the queue of cars to go through the final point, soaking wet and muddy, they believed their race had ended.
“We gave it a real good red hot go,” Riley said.
At the final gate, Riley and Doble learnt of the judges’ decision to cancel the stage and the very surprised RileyMotorsport team finished on the podium in third place overall.