The South Australian crew of Greg Gartner and Jamie Jennings have made Tattersall’s Finke Desert Race history by taking victory in an Extreme 2WD truck, displacing the normal supremacy of the Pro Buggies in Australia’s largest and most prestigious off-road event. The #410 Ford 150 driven by Gartner and Jennings completed the gruelling 452km two day event, which was round 2 of the Australian Off Road Championship, in a total time of 3 hours 51minutes and 45 seconds to take the victory.
“I quite honestly never thought it would be achieveable. I thought we could get close but the luck was on our side. Even a finish is good up here, let alone where we are at the moment. It’s fantastic! It’s what you come here for and to come across the finish line was good.” said Gartner at the finish.
Gartner’s long time navigator Jamie Jennings was equally estatic, “We thought we might get a podium finish one day, but this is a dream.”
Andrew Kittle and Matthew Kittle in the #14 Peter Kittle Motorsport Jimco finished second outright in 3 hrs. 58 min. 25 secs. Andrew Kittle had tasted success as a navigator, winning the race with Dave Fellows in 2008 & 2009, but this was his first time on the podium as a driver.
In third place at the Alice Springs finish was the local crew of Greg Hicks and Shane Braitling in their Australian built #123 Southern Cross Toyota who completed the total race distance in a time of 3 hrs 59 mins 35 seconds. It is just the second time a prolite has finished on the podium at an AORC round and the result was a testament to the race plan the team ran.
The winning time for this year’s race set by Gartner/Jennings of 3 hrs 51 mins 55secs compares with last year’s (2010) race winning time of David Fellows/Mark Bergamin of 3 hours 40 mins 43 seconds. In this year’s event Fellows/Bergamin in the #1 Jimco Toyota broke a drive shaft on Day 1 of the event yesterday putting them out of serious contention although that did not prevent them from putting in a blistering run on the return leg from Finke back to Alice Springs. Aiming to get amongst the haul of AORC points of offer, Fellows was the fastest machine on the course taking 1 hour 49 minutes 15 seconds for the 226 kilometres as compared to the time for the winning crew of 1hr 54 mins 1 sec.
Not unusually this year’s Finke was a race of attrition with Fellows/Bergamin not being alone as one of the more fancied crews to strike trouble. Former Australian champs, Shannon and Ian Rentsch also suffered a broken axle, while the leader into Finke, the #13 Jimco buggy of WA’s Travis Robinson/Paul Currie were out early in the run home with a reported broken gearbox between Mt Squires and Bundooma. Brad Gallard/Scott Modistach in the #454 Monster Chev Trophy Truck were also a casualty on the return leg with a broken diff, which was a disappointing result for the South Australian’s after charging from 17th on the starting grid to 2nd outright on day one. Geoff Rowe/Liz Rowe #403 Geiser Bros Trophy Truck who were third into Finke were also another casualty with other crews reporting that their machine had a ‘wheel off’ between Deep Well and the finish.
Matthew Coleman and Sean Teagle finished fourth outright in the Chevy powered Alpha buggy, just twenty seconds ahead of Buddy & Kerry Crowe in their Chevy powered Jimco, who rounded out the top five.
While Gartner, Kittle and Braitling took the class honours in the Extreme 2WD, ProBuggy and Prolite Classes respectively, the battles within all the classes was equally fierce. Colin Hunter took the honours in the Extreme 4WD Class, after a overcoming a fire on the return leg in his Dodge Dakota. In his tenth appearance at Finke, Geoff Pickering continued his good form at Finke, winning the Production 4WD Class in his Pajero and maintaining his unrivalled 100% finishing record.
Darryl Smith continued his dominance of the Super 1650 Class, finishing in a time of 4:32:51 in his Alumicraft ahead of Murray England who had stepped his 1300cc Sportsman buggy into the bigger capacity engine class for the Finke. Victoria’s Craig Weaire and David Adriaans took the honours in the Performance 2WD Class.
Round three of the Australian Off Road Championship will be the Flinders 450 on July 22-24, held at Baroota in South Australia.