Finke 2010: Toby Price’s First of Six Wins
If you’re into off-road racing, this time of year traditionally means one thing: the iconic Finke Desert Race. And in 2010, it meant a whole lot more for a bloke called Toby Price than it did for anyone else. That year, the then 22-year-old Toby Price became only the second rider in history to win the race on debut; an accomplishment that hinted at the desert-racing prowess of a man who’d go on to claim a record-breaking six wins at Finke (not to mention those two wins at the grand daddy of desert racing events, the Dakar Rally!).
So while we can’t be out there to savour the expansive horizons, red soil and buzzing atmosphere of Alice Springs this year – the first time the race has not run since its inception in 1976! – we can reflect on Price’s memorable King of the Desert win back in 2010; a landmark for the event and for a man who is now widely regarded as the best desert racer Australia has ever produced.
This content was first published in Issue #2 of Transmoto Dirt Bike Magazine in 2010.
The 35th Finke
Finke rookie, Toby Price, etches his name into desert racing’s record books.
On the Thursday before the Queen’s Birthday Long Weekend back in June, 2005, organisers somehow managed to assemble 13 of Finke’s 14 Outright winners in Alice Springs for an evening they’d billed as “The Legends Dinner”. It was staged to coincide with the 30th anniversary of the Finke Desert Race, and a packed house in the Tattersall’s Casino was treated to something special.
Two of the race’s pioneering organisers, Damien Ryan and Garry King, deftly MC’d proceedings. Over the course of several hours, they called the Finke winners up to the stage, one by one, and prompted each bloke to reflect on the years he’d ruled the brutal stretch of desert between Alice Springs and the Aboriginal community of Finke, 230km to its south. One amusing anecdote at a time, the 13 Kings of the Desert reconstructed Finke’s colourful 30-year history.
The crowd was regaled with sensational stories about the mad Le Mans starts and bar-mounted fuel tanks in the early days; about the hideously inadequate old bikes, the torturous track’s toll on man and machinery, the influx of the Pro motocrossers, the CR500’s dominance, Randall Gregory’s unbeaten five-year winning streak, and the emergence of the four-strokes as the bike of choice.
And common to all the stories was an undercurrent of rivalry between the Alice Springs locals and the out-of-towners; between the guys who grew up in Alice and absolutely live to race Finke, and the blow-ins who rocked up for a long weekend in June to pilfer the silverware, the prize money, and the local riders’ honour!
Five years down the track, not much has changed, and that locals-versus-interstaters rivalry is as fierce as ever. Back in ’05, the King of the Desert scorecard sat at 21-9 in favour of the locals. But coming into this year’s 35th Finke, it had narrowed to 21-13. Yep, the blow-ins had been on a roll. Since gutsy Alice Springs local Ryan Branford won the 2006 event, Ben Grabham had dominated. In ’07, ’08 and ’09, the local boys didn’t see which way he went.
For 2010, Grabbo was part of a powerhouse KTM team. Teammates Brad Williscroft and Chad Billett both stood on the Finke podium in 2009, while a laconic young bloke called Toby Price had come to Finke for the first time just to “…have fun, get some experience and hope to do alright”. Do alright? After pre-running the course, the reigning AORC and 4-Day champ had obviously learned the desert racing ropes very quickly and looked the goods. Add to the potent mix the fact the KTM team didn’t include a local rider, and that the large Desert Edge Racing Team (DERT) Honda outfit comprised almost entirely of Alice locals, and the stage was set for an epic us-versus-them battle.
Finke has become a two-horse race between Honda and KTM in recent years, and in Alice Springs during June, red versus orange takes on Ford versus Holden proportions. That with-us-or-against us mentality fuels passions and fans competitive fires.
For the 35th running of Finke, and despite his teammates all succumbing to engine failures, Toby Price dominated proceedings. Kato nabbed the top two Outright positions and three class wins, while the Honda boys filled seven of the top-10 Outright places, and posted four class wins. The local versus blow-in ledger narrowed further to 21-14, but more importantly, 22-year-old Toby Price became first rookie since 1987 to be crowned King of the Desert. And, just like the $10,000 prize money cheque Price pocketed for his troubles, no one can ever take that away from him – no matter where he comes from or what coloured bike he rides.
1ST OUTRIGHT: TOBY PRICE
The Finke rookie kept Ben Grabham in his sights on the way south, passing the reigning champ after his bike had stopped just 7km from Finke. The teammates had pushed hard and built up a 10-minute lead, so Price rode a conservative return leg to bring his 450 home safely, maintaining a healthy margin over Todd Smith. There was no big-noting from Price; just the same humble confidence that has served him so well over the past two stellar seasons.
2ND OUTRIGHT: TODD SMITH
Runner-up in last year’s Australasian Safari and this year’s Condo 750, Todd Smith looked fit and confident in only his second Finke, improving significantly on his 2009 eighth placing. After a few high-speed off-piste excursions on the way to Finke, the quietly spoken Team CPW Safari KTM rider focused on bringing his 530EXC home in one piece. He claimed second Outright and the big-bore four-stroke class-win, and was the only big-bore machine amid a sea of angry 450s in the top-15.
3RD OUTRIGHT: RYAN BRANFORD
The 2006 King of the Desert is a big lump of a lad who has made conserving energy through Finke’s notorious whoops an artform. He lost his rear brake only 50km into the return leg and rode with a badly buckled front rim, but the Alice-based electrician still posted the fastest trip back to town. He sure knows how to twist the throttle, but he’s up against fully blown Pro riders these days and will have to change up his program if he wants to reclaim the King’s crown.
4TH OUTRIGHT: JACOB SMITH
Along with his older brother, Todd, the reigning Australasian Safari champ was contesting his second Finke and continues to demonstrate riding smarts and maturity way beyond his 21 years. After a 12th place last year, Smith had a trouble-free run aboard one of the many DERT Honda CRF450Rs to finish fourth Outright and third in the 120-strong 450 class. Keep an eye on him next year. A mere 230km per day is a walk in the park for a Safari champ, and you get the feeling he’s got more in the tank.
5TH OUTRIGHT: JACK DOOLEY-McDONNELL
Last year, when this young Alice Springs motocrosser won the 250cc four-stroke class and ran 10th Outright at Finke, he certainly turned some heads. There’s not much of him, but JDM made the transition to the powerful 450 very successfully. He bettered last year’s result with an impressive top-five Outright, and appears to be the rider the DERT Honda guys are pinning their hopes on for the years ahead.
DNF: BEN GRABHAM
Looking for his fourth consecutive Finke win, Grabham started well by winning the prologue and giving himself the best chance of dust-free run south. But, pressed hard by teammate, Toby Price, Grabbo pinned it on the final graded 60km section into Finke, and cracked a piston just short of the line. The ranga took the disappointment in his stride, and was straight back out there with Transmoto’s Garry Blizzard on an ATV to recover his disabled race bike so KTM team boss, Brad Williscroft, could use his suspension for the return trip to Alice. It looks like Randall Gregory’s record of five straight Finke wins is set to stand for some time yet!
A PODIUM WITH A DIFFERENCE…
Boring speeches and endless thanks to sponsors … podium presentations are rarely the most riveting affairs. But the shenanigans after this year’s Finke made an exception to the rule. Without the sanitised, button-down corporate culture of a national motocross podium, Finke marches to the beat of its own drum. The boys get to enjoy a quiet beer (or, in Ryan Branford’s case, a relieving bunger) before they hit the stage. And, thanks to a conveniently placed hot tub, there was ample opportunity to wash the champers off and to ‘mingle’ with the grid girls. Gold!
Incidentally, just a week before Toby Price was spraying the bubbly for his 2010 Finke Race victory, the very first issue of Transmoto Magazine hit newsstands with, your guessed it, Toby Price featured on its cover.