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Condobolin’s Jacob Smith leads the field in the motorbike section of the Australasian Safari, having moved ahead of his brother Todd on the run between the West Australian towns of Mt Magnet and Leonara on day three of the motorsport marathon.

Jacob Smith holds a narrow 10 second lead over Queenslander, AJ Roberts, with Todd Smith having fallen back to third, 16 minutes 46 seconds behind after setting the pace on the opening two days.

Jacob Smith and Roberts are both on Hondas’ who now have a handy break over the field after eight of the event’s 19 timed stages. However, KTM riders hold the next four positions, and they are sure to challenge over the remaining four days.

Multiple Dakar Rally winner, Josef Machacek from the Czech Republic, has taken the lead in the Quad bike category after overnight leader, Paul Smith, struck trouble and lost nearly an hour.

Andy Brown, has seen his chances of victory disappear in the Auto class, but fellow Victorian Terry “Tangles” Conner has put his Nissan Ute into the lead, four minutes ahead of 2008 winner Steve Riley in a Mitsubishi Pajero.

Leg three of the 7-day, 3600 kilometre epic journey saw competitors tackle four competitive stages, the longest being the 173 kilometre Noondie Loop stage. Road conditions were rough, sandy and overgrown over much of the route, with vehicle preservation at the forefront of most competitors’ minds.

Jacob Smith didn’t win a stage on his way to taking the lead on his Honda CRF 450X, but consistency is everything on the Safari and he moved into the lead, but with his Honda team-mate, Roberts, so close by, there is growing confidence in the Honda camp that they can secure the title for the Japanese manufacturer.

The other Smith, Todd, lost his lead on stage five after striking trouble. Leading West Australian rider, Ivan Erceg, in fourth.

The leader was pleased to get to Leonora after a difficult day in the West Australian outback.

“It was tough being out front today, because I had to make all the calls on finding the right track,” Jacob Smith said.

“AJ (Roberts) was behind me most of the time, but the bike was good and I had no problems, so it was generally a good day.”

Roberts had endured a tough time following Smith.

“I pulled some good time on Jake (Smith), but I ate his dust all day,” Roberts said.

“You had to travel pretty fast and I’ve never had to hold a bike so fast for so long. The bike has been fantastic, but the course was very easy to stuff up and the navigation was critical.”

Defending champion, Ben Grabham, continued his fight back after Monday’s tyre problems and has moved into fifth place, albeit still nearly an hour off the lead. His brother Damien is out of the event with a suspected broken leg.

The Czech Republic’s Josef Machacek came to the Australasian Safari with a big reputation, having won the gruelling Dakar Rally five times on his Quad. Machacek’s Yamaha Raptor wasn’t the fastest bike over the first two days, but on day three he has proved that experience may well be the key to victory.

As early pacesetters Paul Smith (CAN AM) and Heath Young (KTM) both hit problems, Machacek moved ahead and now holds a commanding 40 minute lead over his countryman, Martin Plechaty, riding a Borile Bory.

Last year’s Quad bike champion, South Australian John Maragozidis, lost any chance of a repeat victory on the first stage of the day when he dropped over an hour and a half.

With Brown’s demise in the Auto category, Terry and Jodi Conner drove brilliantly in their Nissan Ute to set the pace, but they will be well aware that they have a string of Safari veterans on their tail as the event nears its half-way mark.

Riley had set up a lead of around 30 minutes yesterday, but the reigning champion hit a patch of water and hit a tree, damaging the steering rack on his Pajero and dropping a lot of time.

But with the car fixed, he set about making up lost ground and now sits less than four minutes behind Brown, with former V8 Supercar driver, Paul Weel, third in his ex-factory Holden Colorado.

In fourth is NSW veteran, Bruce Garland, in the same diesel-powered Isuzu D-MAX that he drove to 11th outright in this year’s Dakar Rally in South America. The wily Garland is only 23 minutes off the pace, and with four days still to run, he can’t be discounted as a possible victor.

Tomorrow sees the Australasian Safari head north-east from Leonora to Laverton over three stages and 301 competitive kilometres. Western Australia’s spectacular outback scenery plays a prominent role tomorrow with some magnificent views, although riders and drivers will have little time to take their eyes off the road.

Australasian Safari - end of day three

1 Jacob SMITH (NSW), Honda CRF 450 X, 9h21m40s
2 AJ ROBERTS (NSW), Honda CRF 450 X, +10s
3 Todd SMITH (NSW), KTM 530 EXC, +16m 46s
4 Ivan ERCEG (WA), KTM 450 EXC, +47m 30s
5 Ben GRABHAM, KTM 530 EXC, +53m 13s

1 Josef MACHACEK (CZ), Yamaha Raptor, 10:51:49
2 Martin PLECHATY (CZ), Borile Bory FM 700 R, +40m 1s
3 Paul SMITH (VIC), CAN AM Renegade 800 R X, +40m 50s,
4 Heath YOUNG (WA), KTM XL, +45m 48s

AUTO (after SS7)
1 Terry CONNER (Vic)/Jodi CONNER (Vic), Nissan GQ Ute, 09:43:18
2 Stephen RILEY (Vic)/ John DOBLE (NSW),  Mitsubishi Pajero, +3m54s
3 Paul WEEL (Qld)/Kees Weel (Qld), Holden Colorado, +16m55s
4 Bruce GARLAND (NSW)/Harry SUZUKI (NSW) Isuzu DMAX, +23m06s
5 Reg OWEN (Vic)/Russell CAIRNS (Vic), Nissan Patrol, +26m56s
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