Team Toyo are primed for an all-out assault on the Simpson Desert as preparations for Australia’s most dangerous off-road race reach fever pitch.
For the unfamiliar, the Finke might be the world’s greatest desert race. The Australian version of the Baja 1000. It’s the race that every off-road racer talks about year round. Every tweak, every new part and each minute spent in the racecar leads to Finke.
It’s the hardest race to win on the calendar. Reliability and balancing on the thin line between outright aggression and risk management are as important as lady luck to seeing the finish line.
Starting with qualifying on Saturday and race day Sunday and Monday, the race is a two-day there and back rally raid covering 452 kilometres of hostile outback. Pacing the desert between Alice Springs and Apatula the track features intimidating whoops, and hidden danger under every lump.
What was once an endurance test has evolved into a survival sprint. Risks are rewarded, and mistakes are punished harshly. 2017 will be the 42nd running of the desert classic.
Race transporters from around Australia and the world, stuffed to the brim with the fastest field the Finke has seen are still rolling into Alice Springs.
Team Toyo comprises Desert Royalty, three of the toughest trophy trucks on the grid, all with Finke wins to their name. Brad Gallard, Hayden Bentley and Greg Gartner are among the most recognised names in the sport.
All three will attack the dirt with Toyo Tires Open Country M/T-R. The race version of Toyo’s most rugged off-road rubber.
2014 Finke Iron Man Billy Geddes, piloting trophy truck Hell Boy will also run with Toyo's.
Pre-running of the track has seen our drivers report the same thing. The track last saw rain in January, making the fine rest dust a major challenge.
Two-time King of the Desert Bentley says the track might be more difficult than ever.
“It’s rough, hard and dusty…I think it might be worse than usual,” he said. “It suits us, we like harder tracks and harder races, it’s about to survival to finish.”
Arguably the most important stage, qualifying around a seven-kilometre track in Alice Springs will determine the starting order. Critically, prologue decides who gets the all-important clear air; and who will fight through a wall of all-penetrating dust.
Bentley campaigns a NASCAR PH9 Toyota V8 powered Racer Engineering trophy truck, a car he has now had plenty of seat time in. With two class wins at other events in 2017, Bentley is ready to brawl from qualifying to finish line.
“Aim at the podium, dream of a win. It’s all about finding the fine line. Go as hard as you can but get there,” said the double desert doyen.
“The qualifying track is smooth which suits the pro-buggies more but it’s not representative of the race track. It actually levels the playing field, the trucks excel in the rough stuff.”
The level of the off-road racing scene has grown in leaps and bounds, and the competitors in the extreme 2WD trophy truck class are better equipped than ever before.
2012 Finke winner Gallard says the field will be putting it on.
“There are five other Geiser Bros. trucks out there, which is challenging, Dave Fellows, Toby Price, Billy Geddes, Beau Robinson – all at the top of their game. That’s just the trucks, and then you have to worry about the pro-buggies.” Said Gallard.
A harder field with heavy dust means risks need to be taken.
“We will lay it down. push harder than just a comfortable run. We want to have a full on run. The harder your push the greater the risk, but we are getting as far up that field as we can,” said Brad.
“I know I don’t have to worry about the tyres. I am going to hammer the hell out of them, I will give them everything I’ve got.”
Greg Gartner, whose newly imported Geiser Bros. truck is unfortunately sitting on the docks of Port Melbourne, will unbottle rage with the #410 F150 trophy truck that saw him to Finke victory in 2011.
“It’s going to be a fast race. Seems that the whoops are graded out a little bit and being dry, it just feels like it will be quick,” said Gartner.
“We are going to have to be on the game. If you get stuck in the dust you will lose so much vital time and risky passes aren’t the best. But if I need to we will absolutely be making them. We’ll put pedal to metal”
“The Open Country M/T-R have been unbelievable in the last three years. We couldn’t be happier with our tyres. They are set and forget.”
To our boys in white and blue, may you never lift, and may your taillights lead the way.