Honda’s Jacob Smith, and Michael Denham and Daniel Adam in the Micklefab Raptor TT were the winners of this year’s Sunraysia Safari Cross Country Rally, although it could well be argued that given the gruelling nature of this “Dakar Down Under”, all 45 finishers were somewhat victorious! 58 crews gathered in Wentworth on August 7 to contest almost 1350 competitive kilometres over the five days of stages, making this rally the largest in Australia (in terms of competitive distance). The severe drought conditions in the region required some alterations to the course, however, the amazing co-operation of the landowners allowed the event to continue with minimal disruption. The overall spirit of the local communities is a real highlight of this event, and competitors really enjoy the interaction with the farmers and their families. The Sunraysia Safari sets out to capture the spirit of adventure, camaraderie and excitement that was so prevalent in the original Wynn’s/Australian Safaris, and Round Australia type rallies, and the organisers have pretty much hit the mark. Early leaders on Leg One were anyone with the surname Hederics! Multiple Australian Safari winner (on two and four wheels) John, teamed with John “Yap” Williams in their Jimco Buggy, led the way in Autos from fellow Buggy competitors Glen Owen/Mathew Ryan, and Jason Noonan/Sam Sapuppo.

John Purshouse/Toni Feaver in their South African-built Ford Ranger. Photo: B Team Rally Media

Meanwhile on two wheels, brothers Beau and Jake were battling it out in their own motorsport version of “Family Feud”, the younger Hederics coming out on top by just over a minute. Leg Two saw crews wind their way up to Pooncarie for the service break, and Glen Owen started to press his claim, taking out the fastest time for the day, narrowly beating defending champions John Purshouse/Toni Feaver in the South African-built Ford Ranger. It was the day for defending champions, as last year’s Moto winne, Rod Faggotter, took his Yamaha into first place, with young Alice Springs Rider, Luke Hayes, setting an impressive pace in his first navigational event. The long competitive stages (the shortest of the day was just over 60km!) were providing an amazing mixture of terrain and stunning scenery, with roads ranging from tight and technical, to flat out desert style sand. Competitors were relishing the conditions, with different sections suiting different vehicles.

Rob Herridge's new Subaru XV finished on the podium. Photo: B Team Rally Media

Leg Three featured areas not previously used by the event, running to the North West of Wentworth, through the Greater Darling Anabranch region. It was a step up in intensity and distance from the previous days, with two stages over 100km in length, and featuring some amazing Dakar style sand sections. Toby Hederics encountered mechanical issues as a result of a couple of incidents and dropped down the order, leaving Jacob Smith to lead the way from Rod Faggotter. Father John also encountered difficulties, clipping a post and damaging the front left corner of his Jimco buggy, before incurring a time penalty for a navigational error. Former Australian Rally Champion, Rob Herridge, debuting an all new Subaru XV, was trying his best to come to grips with the untested car and maintain contact with the leading pack. A variety of teething problems saw him still inside the top 10, but seemingly unable to mount a challenge like the one that saw him almost win last year’s Sunraysia Safari, only to fall short with an engine failure at the end of the penultimate day. Owen/Ryan once again led from Purshouse/Feaver, with Michael Denham/Daniel Adam signalling their intention to challenge, moving the big Micklefab Trophy Truck up the order. Leg Four was the big day! Competitors had been warned by the Event Director, Troy Bennett, that he’d set a long and difficult day, and it was proven to be correct, and then some! A wild dust storm howled across the 127km Mulurulu stage, reducing visibility to a matter of metres. Competitors could have been forgiven for thinking they were in the wilds of the Atacama Desert rather than 200km NW of Wentworth.

Jacob Smith survived to win the Moto division after bike problems. Photo: B Team Rally Media

It provided yet another challenge for competitors, and a real talking point around the fire that night. Unfortunately, Glen Owen’s run came to an abrupt end with terminal engine issues forcing him out early in the first stage. John Purshouse seemed set to run away with the lead until a broken trailing arm bolt cost him 50 minutes later in the day. Michael Denham moved into the lead, with locals Jason Noonan/Sam Sapuppo poised for a podium finish. Hederics/Williams were third overall, however, they too suffered from a terminal engine failure, and despite being generously towed back into Wentworth by rivals Noonan and Sapuppo, they were unable to repair their buggy and were forced into a disappointing retirement. A similar scenario played out in the Moto division, with overall leader Jacob Smith receiving assistance from Yamaha rival, Rod Faggotter, to get into the overnight stop at the Wentworth Showgrounds. Luckily for Smith, the Honda team were able to get him up and going again, with the Yamaha rider offering no objection, stating he’d prefer to race him out on the stages, rather than in protest hearings. It was an unbelievable gesture of sportsmanship, unlikely to be witnessed in too many other forms of motorsport. The final leg took competitors up into the Anabranch region, and Event Director Bennett warned that there was no cruise to the finish! The day had three competitive stages of nearly 260km in total, with the final stage, Bunnerungee, containing the sting in the tail. It was rough, fast, tight and technical, all within the 76km that saw it wind south along the banks of the Anabranch, and back towards Wentworth. Jacob Smith took full advantage of Rod Faggotter’s assistance, and brought his Honda home to win overall by a total of just over three minutes, remarkably close given the huge distance the two had covered.

Rod Faggotter was second the Moto division. Photo: B Team Rally Media

Luke Hayes came home third to finish on the podium in a very impressive debut to Cross Country rallying. In the Auto division, Michael Denham/Daniel Adam kept their Micklefab Raptor pointed in the right direction to lead home Jason Noonan/Sam Sapuppo. Rob Herridge and Sam Hill muscled the little Subaru XV into the final podium place, giving a strong indication of the potential of the brand new car. They’ll be ones to watch in 2019. Overall, the 2018 Sunraysia Safari was a resounding success, with competitors really enjoying the relaxed and friendly atmosphere, stunning terrain and scenery, and 1350 competitive kilometres to get the adrenalin flowing. It’s a unique event on the Australian motor sport calendar, and all indicators point to an even bigger and better 2019 edition. Increased interest from conventional rally cars, as well as Side By Side vehicles (on the back of Phil Lovett/Robert Blackadder’s outstanding fourth overall position), as well as factory support looming from additional Moto and Auto Manufacturers, make this rally one to mark down as a do not miss.
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