3 weeks ago | Words: Andy Wigan | Photos: KTM Images

For 12 seasons now, Stefan Granquist has routinely been a top-10 Outright guy in the country’s premier off-road series, the Australian Off-Road Championship (AORC), notching up a bunch of Pro-class podiums along the way. Impressively, he’s managed to notch up a majority of those standout results as a privateer. Besides two seasons with major race teams (Ballard’s Off-Road Yamaha in 2011 and Active8 Yamaha in 2014), Granquist has got the job done from the back of his own box-van with modest support from Yamaha and a few other loyal personal sponsors who liked the idea of seeing the hardworking, affable Swede upstage his more fancied, factory-backed rivals.

So, when Granquist got the call up to replace Daniel Milner on the KTM Off-Road Racing team for 2022 – arguably the plum seat in Australia’s off-road paddock – he knew how big an opportunity it represented for him.

“The extra level of support that came with the KTM deal gave me a huge boost of extra motivation,” explains Granquist. “I mean, I’ve always worked hard with my riding and training and always chased success, but I’ve always come up a bit short of my what I thought I was capable of. Even though I’m 35, I still love everything about the sport, so after signing with KTM, I said to myself that I’d really chase it like hell for another two seasons and see if I could finally claim that elusive championship title. I knew this was my best – and maybe last – shot.”

Sadly for Granquist, a hand injury put him on the back foot before the 2022 season even got underway.

“Four weeks before the AORC season kicked off, I clipped a tree while out practising and busted a metacarpal bone in my right hand and had to stay off the bike for a couple of weeks to help it heal,” he explains. “I came into the season pretty underdone, but focused on riding smart and building momentum. And then at the first round, I had a slow-speed nothing of a crash, but my left hand fell awkwardly into a hole. And that completely tore the UCL tendon off my left thumb. I could hardly hang on to the bike for the rest of the round. Anyway, I taped it up and finished 3-3 in the E3 class that weekend, but just inside the top 10 Outright both days, which I was pretty disappointed with. I couldn’t believe my luck. Or lack of it.”

Two weeks later, with lashings of tape around both injured hands, Granquist toughed it out at Queensland’s Round 3 and 4 in Mackay, carding a 2-3 in E3 and very respectable 5-8 in the Outright standings.

“In Sunday’s wet conditions at Mackay, I just didn’t have the confidence to push,” says Granquist, “so I knew I’d need some surgery on my thumb to get the thing right – hopefully in time for the A4DE in Victoria, which was only three weeks down the track from Mackay.”

In spite of only getting one 20-minute shakedown ride before the 4-Day in early May – which, true to form for Vicco enduro, turned out to be a proper old-school 4-Day with a variety of challenging conditions after heavy rain fell on Day 1 – the 500EXC-F-mounted Granquist ran third in the E3 class and seventh Outright, just 4 seconds off sixth.

Yep, he was getting used to this riding-injured caper and had learned to make a pretty good fist of it too. But what he really needed was some time to properly heal up, and the two-month gap ahead of the Mendooran rounds of the AORC in mid-July gave it to him.

“Coming into Round 5 and 6 at Mendooran, it was the first time all year that I felt I didn’t have to race injured. Which was good because that place is fast and developed a lot of big, square-edged sandy whoops. Annoyingly, I had a small issue with my brake on the Saturday, which cost me some time. I still ran third in class, but 10th Outright was pretty average and I was determined to make up for it on the Sunday.”

And make up for it was exactly what the tall KTM rider did. After five of Sunday’s eight Sprint loops, not only was Granquist leading his E3 class, he was also running third Outright behind two of the country’s most renowned sand racers, Todd Waters and Josh Green.

“I was really feeling the flow in the sand on Sunday and doing that top-three Outright pace pretty comfortably and without taking any risks,” says Granquist, reflecting on the moments before disaster struck. “Then on the exit of a really fast turn, I got swappy and was bounced from mid-track straight into a tree. I hit hard and it ejected me into the air. When I hit the deck 10 or 15 metres down the track, I could see that my lower leg was flopping out at a weird angle. The pain was pretty gnarly, as it ended up being a bad break to both the tib and fib, but what really hurt was knowing that my season was over, and that I hadn’t been able to capitalise on my opportunity with the KTM team and pay back the faith that KTM and the other sponsors had all put in me.”

In a lengthy operation, doctors put a rod down Granquist’s tibia and told him he’d be off the bike for at least six months.

“Mate, that was devastating news, though I’m going to work towards only four months on the sidelines,” he admits. “I pretty quickly realised that I’ve just got to make the best of the situation and do whatever I can to get the leg good so I can get back on the bike. Hopefully, I can help KTM out at their RIDE OUT events later in the year, and come along to a Transmoto 8-Hour event with the KTM crew and help out in any way I can. That and supporting Emelie [Emelie Karlsson, Stefan’s partner and KTM teammate, who’s running second in the AORC’s Women’s class standings] with her racing any which way I can.”

Stefan Granquist is one of the genuinely good dudes of Australia’s off-road racing scene, and we wish him all the best for a speedy recovery.

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