The story of the standard ute that took on Australia’s toughest race.
Weaving through trailers loaded with off-road weapons, only one car drove itself to the starting line of the roughest Finke Desert Race track anyone had seen, ever.
Direct from daily family duties, Wheels Magazine’s Mazda BT-50 XTR quickly went from shopping run to race number. Prepped by Performance Parts & Engineering for the Bathurst of the outback, the ute was as Mazda intended bar racing seats, roll cage and mandatory comms gear. Only one element was missing – tyres.
Having experienced Toyo toughness while breaking new ground in the Australasian Safari, PPE knew exactly what was needed for the job.
The factory alloys were wrapped with Toyo Tires Open Country M/T, the same tyre available to 4x4 and SUV owners from tyre dealers nationwide. Several spares were mounted in the tray, and it was off to Alice Springs.
When driver and motoring journalist Toby Hagon took his first look at the track, he was stunned.
He told Wheels: “I genuinely laughed at loud when I first saw it… I thought it had to be a joke: you’re telling me we need to average 56km/h on this? We’ll be lucky to even reach 56km/h.”
Stock from drivetrain to suspension, the BT-50 was likely the only car on the line with dual-zone climate control.
Running a brisk prologue on Saturday to qualify for the race, and with navi Bernie Webb carrying a thick stack of pace notes in hand, the boys lined up under the Start/Finish banner and set out to bring glory to standard utes everywhere.
The Finke rollercoaster took its toll on the first day. Weathering hits that melted the shock absorbers, battered the arches and boiled the power steering fluid, the Toyo Open Country M/Ts didn’t let up.
“It’s the hardest driving I’ve ever done by miles, and I can’t believe we made it. I’ve never punished a car that much and had it keep going; just incredible,” Toby said. “It’s fair to say I underestimated just how hard it would be.
“It was extremely rough. Listening to the experienced hands out here, it was the roughest they had ever seen it. I couldn’t believe it held together.”
Hagon, battered and unable to walk at the conclusion of the first leg, restarted the return race on Monday morning under threat of being nicknamed ‘One Direction’.
Chundering along while purpose-built racers skimmed across the rough stuff, Hagon and Webb passed many a trophy truck and buggy on the 226 kilometre route home.
From a field of 127, 64 cars returned in one piece to Alice Springs. The BT-50 was one of them. Finishing second in a class of five far more specialised off-road race vehicles, the BT-50 had done it.
“It was just awesome” Toby told Wheels. “The feeling even coming into the stadium section, thinking ‘we’re gonna make it’ was just incredible”.
Team manager Robert Chadwick said the Open Country M/T tyres held up brilliantly.
“The tyres are in perfect condition. You could run it half a dozen more times with no problems at all.”
So there you have it. A standard car, some tough rubber and a patch of dirt thoroughly attacked. With his legs now back in working order, Toby even reckons he will be back next year.
“Survival is number one at The Finke,” Toby said. “It is so punishing. The real advantage of having a set of tyres like that was being able to punch pretty hard.”