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Australia's ultimate off-road adventure, Australian Safari, is continuing to pull competitors from all over the world, with a team from the United Arab Emirates the latest to sign up.

Led by Steve Blackney, an Englishman based in the Middle East, the Honda Gecko team is looking forward to tackling both the event and its new Western Australian course.

Blackney, who last competed in the 2003 Australian Safari, but failed to reach the finish line, is back with his motorbike because he feels he has a score to settle.

“This year I will be part of a team for the first time,” Blackney said. “I’m back because not finishing the event last time has really been bugging me ever since.”

“This will be my fourth Safari and it’s great that it has a new home,” Blackney said. “From the research we’ve done so far the terrain looks extremely varied. Without a doubt, this will be the most challenging Safari to date.”

Competing in Australia will be new for some of Blackney’s teammates.

“For most of our team this will be a first time to Australia and the task is going to be immense,” Blackney said.

Honda Gecko team manager Sean Linton, originally from Scotland, will be racing in his first Australian Safari this year. Linton has had an impressive career and is currently ranked seventh in the motor cycle world with his Honda CRF 450X RR.

Paul Welling, originally from Australia, will also be riding in his first Australian Safari as part of the Dubai-based team.

The West Australian desert is not like the sandy dunes of Dubai and is sure to challenge Blackney and his Honda XR650 R.

“You have to be super accurate on watching where you are or you will quickly find yourself in the trees or in trouble,” Blackney said. “Hidden termite mounds are also a seriously dangerous aspect we don’t normally have to cope with in the United Arab Emirates.”

The only details competitors have of the event is that it will start on August 24 from the north of the state in Kununurra, finishing 5500 kilometres later in Perth on September 1.

The adventure is often claimed as Australia’s own ‘Dakar Down Under’, and is continuing to grow in popularity, with competitors from the United States, England, China, Papua New Guinea and Sweden lining up to battle it out in this year’s event.

“Australian Safari is second only to Dakar in my in opinion in terms of the challenge, distance and complexity,’ Blackney said.

“The objective of Safari is to reach the end nine days after the start and not crash out in a blaze of full throttle glory in the early stages of the event.”

Blackney has had his fair share of cuts and bruises as he has fought for a podium finish in Safari. In 2000 he raced for six days with badly broken fingers after a crash. In 2001 the English rider came into contact with a car, leaving him with a dislocated shoulder and internal bruising. In 2003, Safari conquered Blackney, knocking him completely out of the race.

“I had a massive over-the-bars crash due to navigational errors and didn’t finish the race.”

“We are very much looking forward to this Safari,” Blackney said. “The competition is fierce, but there is still a very friendly atmosphere.”

Entries for this year’s Safari continue to grow, with more than 80 local and international competitors signing up for the ultimate off-road adventure before the official close of entries on July 27.

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