MEPUNGA quad-bike rider Paul Smith says a dominant week in the West Australian outback has proved his Dakar Rally preparation is on track.
Smith is the 2012 Australasian Safari champion after he survived the seven-day off-road adventure race.
The 33-year-old finished the 2300-kilometre race in 31 hours, 13 minutes and 12 seconds, just over an hour ahead of the runner-up.
The victory was Smith’s second from five starts in the annual event. He also won the quad-bike class in 2010.
Smith had a 48-minute lead on his rivals after day three, which included three stages around Carnarvon, about 900 kilometres north of Perth.
The GHR Honda rider extended the advantage to beyond an hour as the race made its way through sand dunes, cattle stations, creek beds and beaches.
He said the support of his team, which could make running repairs, was crucial to the win.
“I opened up a big lead on day three and after that it was more about maintaining the lead,” he said.
“Especially on the last day, every rattle and squeak you hear you think something is going to go wrong. Safari always throws something at you.
“About three kilometres to go a sheep ran out in front of me and I collected him. I pulled him from under the bike. I carried him to the side of the track, kicked him in the bum and off he ran.”
Smith said the Safari victory came with an added bonus — the TRX700XX bike he used was set up for Dakar Rally conditions and emerged unscathed.
“It was a little under power for the Safari, with its top speed. But everything went smoothly,” he said.
“The only thing that will let me down at Dakar is me.”
Smith was one of three south-west Victorian entrants in the Australasian Safari.
Timboon quad-bike rider Jason Lucas finished fourth in 49 hours, 54 minutes and 52 seconds on his Honda 700XX.
Warrnambool mates Russell Cairns and Reg Owen placed third in the autos section driving a Nissan Patrol and won the autos 5.3 section.
They finished in 30 hours, 19 minutes and 15 seconds.
Cairns was thrilled with the result.
“There were 26 starters and only four cars did it 100 per cent. They completed the entire course without any penalties,” he said.
“We were pretty happy about that.”
Cairns said the pair had to deal with a hole in their radiator and burst a tyre on a beach while battling for third spot on the last day.
“The tracks were some of the best we’ve raced on,” he said.
“We’ve gone from extremely soft beach sand to monstrous dunes to rocky outback gorges.”