WHAT’S THE FINKE, AND WHY SHOULD YOU CARE?
Started in 1976 by half-mad dirt bikers, the Finke Desert Race is a Queen’s Birthday tradition. The two-day there and back rally raid on the fringe of Australia’s inhospitable Simpson Desert is half endurance test, half outback blitz.
To the off-road racer, Finke’s King of the Desert crown is the highest honour there is. Wheels Magazine called the race the “Bathurst 1000 of the Outback”.
Last year’s outright winner finished the race in three hours 42 minutes, averaging 122km/h over what may be the world’s least forgiving race surface.
Vehicles underwent scrutineering today, and tomorrow’s telling prologue (qualifying) on an eight-kilometre circuit in Alice Springs will sort the field into order.
On Sunday morning racers in cars, buggies, trophy trucks, quads and on motorbikes will launch two at a time from the start/finish line in Alice Springs.
With swarms of helicopters overhead they will sprint 226 kilometres along a disused Ghan service road south-east to Finke, a remote Aboriginal community renamed Apatula in the 1980s.
Those who survive the first leg set up camp, lick their wounds and set about repairing damage and preparing for day two.
The race restarts on Monday morning in reverse on a truck track rutted out by the tyre-spinning throttle of all 559 entrants. Railing berms, disappearing into deep whoops, avoiding holes and hammering home, the final leg is where survival instinct succumbs to the racer’s red mist and things get fast and hairy.
In the early years the Finke was a dirt bike-only race. Now, anything goes. Production 4WDs race with menacing trophy trucks and flame-spitting buggies, side by sides and quads. Dirt bikes dominate the entry card, with a longstanding and (mostly) good natured rivalry between the two and four-wheeled racers.
Team Toyo has fielded entries in Extreme 2WD (trophy trucks), Pro Buggy and Production 4WD classes. With former Finke King of the Desert Greg Gartner, off-roading wunderkind Danny Brown and second-generation motoring journalist Toby Hagon at the helm of their various machines, we are feeling confident.
The race vehicles are vastly different but they do share a common trait. They roost fine, lingering, all-penetrating red dust into the air that obscures vision, clogs airways and finds its way into everything.
The Finke is a torture test. No other event in this country pushes tyres this hard.
From the team’s pre-running this week the word is that the track is as unpredictable, fast and frightening as ever, making a super-reliable tyre just one less thing drivers need to worry about.
Keeping it street legal, the Wheels Mazda BT-50 is running Open Country M/T to pump through the course. As much of a physical challenge as a mechanical one, Toby Hagon said was relieved to have the tough-tyre box checked.
“Tyres are an important part of racing this track, and we are glad to have something tough,” he said.
Both Gartner’s #410 trophy truck and Brown’s #42 twin-turbo Jimco buggy will run the Open Country M/T-R. The racing variant of the tyre on the BT-50, the trophy truck runs a massive 39-inch tyre to make the whoops smaller, with the buggy set up for tight turns and agility on a 35-inch M/T-R.
Last weekend Team Toyo’s Tavo Vildosola put the Open Country M/T-R on top of the podium at the Baja 500, demonstrating the tyre’s chequered flag potential.
Stay tuned to our Facebook page and blog for rolling coverage of the long weekend Finke assault.
Learn more about the Open Country range of tyres here.