The 2018 Tatts Finke Desert Race would prove to be the ultimate testing ground for both man and machine and this year was a ripper year for Sherco. Factory Sherco rider Nathan Trigg won first place in the 450 bike class and came in at 10th overall on his 450 SEF-R. Closer to our hearts local riders Michael Roycroft and Mark Sinclair competed in the event with Mark on a 450 SEF-R and Michael on a 300 SEF-R.
Can you imagine riding flat out for 226km of gruelling endless whoops, deep powdery red sand, tyre shredding rocky outcrops and a wall of red dust obstructing your vision as you battle against 600 other riders only to get to the finish line at Finke and realise you have to turn around and do it all again tomorrow? That was the challenge the boys had lying ahead of them.
Michael and Mark met through Michael’s business TJM Hunter Valley and Sherco Motorcycles Newcastle but with riding as a common interest the boys soon became good mates, and before too long a plan was concocted to compete in the Finke race. Mark had not long battled and won the fight against thyroid cancer and set his 40th birthday as a personal challenge to compete in the event for the first time.
“Can you imagine riding flat out for 226km of gruelling endless whoops, deep powdery red sand, tyre shredding rocky outcrops and a wall of red dust”
Michael had competed in the event on a number of occasions before on both a side by side and quad, but on two wheels – this was a whole new kettle of fish! The boys set about on a training regime in the months leading up, to get themselves into shape and some bike fitness in readiness to take on the toughest motorcycle endurance event Australia has to offer.
Mark set out with a small support team for the road trip out to Alice Springs from Newcastle, and Michael would fly out to meet them a few days later with Sherco Motorcycles Newcastle store manager and team mechanic Thomas. The key to finishing this race was to get to spend some time on the track and become as familiar with the terrain as they possibly could in the short time they would get to spend in the lead-up to the race.
There’s no shortage of camp sites along the Finke track and what better way to get familiar with the terrain than to sleep out trackside to make sure every bit of available daylight was spent combing the desert track. And…well who wouldn’t want to take the opportunity to spend a night out under the stars beneath a desert sky given the opportunity?
Although Newcastle does offer some sand dune riding, the terrain at Finke was a far cry from what either of the boys had ridden before and immediate thoughts of trepidation arose after the first pre-run. The whoops are bigger and a constant barrage on rider and suspension, the sand is deeper and to make things even harder, the rocky outcrops that pop up every now and then (without warning) will destroy a tyre and rim in a heartbeat.
Getting the suspension dialled in to suit the high-speed whoops was imperative to being competitive in this race as the settings for single track mountain trails that the boys were used too simply weren’t going to cut it out here. Luckily suspension expert Terry from Shock Treatment who frequents the event was on-hand to do a bit of fine tuning, and to give the boys some pointers on set-up and riding style to suit the Finke terrain.
“settings for single track mountain trails that the boys were used too simply weren’t going to cut it out here”
Prologue is an exciting day and plenty of people turned out to watch the qualifying event that would set the starting times for the boys in the main event. Without a site lap and looming dust, they would be flying blind on the 8km qualifying track. With a time of 7m:09 seconds, Mark would be position 368 off the start line, leaving just over 2hrs after front runner Toby Price. Michael placed 517th off the start with a time of 7m:58 seconds and would start approximately 3 hrs after the front runner leaving both of the boys to battle it out in the dust amongst 600 other bikes.
Alice Springs would turn on its best winter weather for Day 2 of racing with the cars starting the main event in the early hours of the morning, and the boys set to start their ride early in the afternoon. Most of the entire population of Alice Springs and the blow-ins for the event turn out in droves to watch the big names launch off the dirt dragstrip start/finish line at the Alice Springs Showground. A cloud of looming red dust awaits as you arrive and will haunt you the entire length of the testing desert track, right through to the remote Aboriginal community of Finke – some 226km southeast of the Alice.
The community of Finke was originally established as railway siding for the Ghan Railway which was relocated in 1981. Known as Aputula by locals, Finke takes its name from the dry Finke River which is one of the oldest river systems in the world, dating back almost 350 million years. The community now has a population of around 160 of the Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara peoples and is supported by a small school, shop and church.
Both boys finished the first day late in the arvo with strong bursts towards the line at Finke after tackling the punishing first leg. A sigh of relief was finally breathed by family members including the parents of both riders who along with the support team, met them out at Finke for the camp-over for the night.
Both bikes held up to the challenging conditions with only a bark buster needing replacing after a minor tumble. The bikes were given a quick once over by Thomas and readied for the next day of racing – and as the sun set over the campsite that evening, a sense of achievement was felt by all – of a successful first leg of the race. They had made it there, they just needed to get back again. Plenty hadn’t made it that far.
The team woke to a beautiful sunrise and the sounds of trophy trucks and buggies preparing for the early morning run. There’s nothing quite like the roar of an unmuffled, high -powered V8 tearing across the desert landscape first thing in the morning before breakfast!
The last day kicked off with both riders leaving at similar starting times to the previous day. The support crew packed up and after some quick running repairs on Nathan Trigg’s bike – headed back in to meet the boys back at Alice for the finale.
Both riders battled the dust and fatigue again for the final day and both riders had minor falls but rode on to cross the finish line. Mark placed at 379th overall with a total time of 7hrs 51mins 14s and Michael finished in at 413th overall with a time of 8hrs 9 mins 2sec, but the race results were irrelevant as to what the guys where tyring to achieve. They made it There and Back Again, and so did their bikes – the whole objective was to finish in one piece and conquer the hardest endurance race the country has to offer.
“There’s nothing quite like the roar of an unmuffled, high -powered V8 tearing across the desert landscape first thing in the morning before breakfast”