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With just three stages remaining of the 3600-kilometre Australasian Safari marathon, it seems that only disaster can stop Honda rider Jacob Smith from climbing on to the top step of the podium in Kalgoorlie tomorrow afternoon.

The Condobolin rider holds a 25 minute advantage over his brother, Todd Smith, on a KTM, with two-time winner Ben Grabham third, less than two minutes further back.  With 16 of the event’s 19 timed stages, it seems that Grabham’s dream of a third straight title is over.

The Czech Republic’s Josef Machacek continues to lead the quad bike category, although Victorian Paul Smith has reduced his lead by seven minutes during Leg 6. The Czech rider still has a 46-minute buffer, and the wily veteran is unlikely to throw that advantage away.

In the Auto section, Steve Riley has increased his lead to 16 and a half minutes in his Mitsubishi Pajero, with Terry “Tangles” Conner (Nissan) and Bruce Garland (Isuzu) hot on his heels and hoping that the 2008 winner slips up on the run to the finish.

Today’s three stages covered 392 competitive kilometres on many tight and overgrown tracks between Laverton and Kalgoorlie.

The day’s first stage was a relatively short 87-kilometre test, but the following 243 kilometre stage was where most expected Ben Grabham to make his final charge for victory.

While the Bathurst rider was the fastest through the stage, he was only three minutes and 42 seconds quicker than leader Jacob Smith, who finished the stage with a broken fuel line.

Smith endured a mad scramble to fix his fuel problem in the 15 minutes service time following the stage, but remained upbeat and confident he could hold on for victory.

“The first two stages went well, and they were good fun,” Smith said. “We’re gradually getting there. Minimising risks is now vital.”

Todd Smith has so far managed to protect his second placing, however he knows he will be chased all the way to the finish line by Grabham who is less than two minutes behind.

“The long stage was hard and tough,” Todd said. “I’m a bit buggered and my legs are pretty tired, but I’ve had no crashes and a pretty clean run.

“I think I can keep second place if I keep my mind on the job.”

Grabham is still pushing hard despite not making the in-roads to the lead he’d been hoping for.

“The 243km stage was the hardest and most physically demanding of the event,” he admitted. “The bike was good, but there were a few spots where the track was hard to see because of trees, so it was quite difficult.”

Western Australian, Ivan Erceg, is comfortable in fourth place, intent on getting his bike to the finish without problems, while South Australian, David Schwarz, has moved into the top five on his Husaberg.

Swedish rider, Annie Seel, suffered a foot injury on her Husaberg, but after treatment from the event medical team, she continued on in 13th place.

Many agreed with Grabham that the long second stage of the day was one of toughest of the event. It saw most of the four-wheel drives hit tyre problems.

Steve Riley was happy that his car was holding up well, considering the rough roads, but his rivals were dropping back.

“That was the toughest section ever,” second placed Terry Conner reported. “We had to replace a front tyre during the stage and I’m having clutch problems, but otherwise it’s all going okay.”

Third placed Garland wasn’t as fortunate, changing all four tyres during the stage and having to take a fifth from his service crew when he reached the finish.

“We’re not going real well today,” he confessed. “It was murder in that stage.”

Revelling in the long stage was the big American Hummer H2 SUT of Josh Hall and co-driver “Thad” Stump. The 3500-kilogram Hummer loves the long and rough stages, and they took their second stage win of the event.

The big beast doesn’t run a front windscreen, and finished the stage with a cabin full of branches and leaves after a hard charge through the Western Australian outback.

The final day of the event sees competitors embark on a two stage, 165 kilometre loop out of the gold mining city of Kalgoorlie. Navgational skills will be tested over a number of tricky station tracks, which could provide a real sting in the tail.

Following the day’s two stages, the podium finish will take place in Maritana Street from 12.30pm.

Australasian Safari - results end of Stage 16

MOTO (after stage 16 of 19)
1 Jacob SMITH (NSW), Honda CRF 450 X, 20h 15m 17s
2 Todd SMITH (NSW), KTM 530 EXC, +25m 22s
3 Ben GRABHAM (NSW), KTM 530 EXC, +27m 03s
4 Ivan ERCEG (WA), KTM 450 EXC, +1h 46m 16s
5 David SCHWARZ (SA), Husaberg, +2h 17m 05s

QUADS (after stage 16 of 19)
1 Josef MACHACEK (CZ), Yamaha Raptor, 26h 01m 36s
2 Paul SMITH (VIC), CAN AM Renegade 800 R X, +46m 05s
3 Martin PLECHATY (CZ), Borile Bory FM 700R, +12h 40m 37s

AUTO (after stage 16 of 19)
1 Stephen RILEY (Vic)/ John DOBLE (NSW), Mitsubishi Pajero, 23h 02m 34s
2 Terry CONNER (Vic)/Jodi CONNER (Vic), Nissan GQ Ute, +16m 32s
3 Bruce GARLAND (NSW)/Harry SUZUKI (NSW) Isuzu DMAX, +26m 23s
4 Reg OWEN (Vic)/Russell CAIRNS (Vic), Nissan Patrol, +1h 26m 02s
5 Beau ROBINSON (WA), Dieter ALLEN (WA), Mitsubishi Pajero, +2h 01m 11s
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