"We really, really made it!"

I managed to get to speak to Jacob on the evening of 16.1.2011 as they started their celebrations, but not before what turned out to be a prank call of sorts. It was good to see the boys had finally let their hair down after nearly a month of early starts and long days.

Ed: The beers are out already I see…

JS: Yeah, we’ve had a couple! Sorry about that… Max was just pretending to be me!

Ed: I had somewhat of a restless night last night and got up again to watch the timings for the last special. You had me more than a little worried – after entering the stage in the top 20, you disappeared completely from the time sheets for about an hour. What happened?

JS: Mate, I ran wide on a turn that was sharper than I was expecting, through a culvert and then I hit a fence. It pushed the bash plate that had all my tools in it upwards, punching a hole through the bottom of the radiator. I spent a lot of time fixing it. It took a couple of tries because it was a fairly big hole. I had some liquid steel but that wouldn’t plug it. I had to find a stick about the same diameter of the hole to plug it and then filled the rest with “knead-it”. That fixed it and I got going again. I was freaking out big time, I thought my race was over. I was really dirty on myself. I was busy adding up (the road book) and the corner came up way faster than I planned for. Next thing I knew I was in a fence with the radiator pouring water. I was saying to myself before the start, “just take it easy”, because I had nothing at all to gain by going harder. I couldn’t believe it happened right at the end.

Ed: What were we talking about just 24 hours ago? The two guys who crashed out last year!

JS: Yeah! On the last day and all! I felt like an absolute idiot, but I managed to fix it and get in. It was such a relief to get to the finish, to end up in Buenos Aires and hand my time card in… a relief more than anything to tell you the truth.

Ed: Well, at least you did it under your own power. Lopez ended up being towed to the end after he trashed the rear end of his bike and that cost him 3rd place overall. He had a whole lot more to lose though.

JS:  For sure. After all the dramas we had, all I wanted to do was finish. But if I was running for the podium and had my spot cemented in place after 16 days only to have something like that go wrong I’d be gutted, massively gutted. I feel for him definitely, but mate, that’s what can happen. It was the last stage and only 180km, but it’s still counts. It could happen on the first day, day 5, day 10, whatever. You have to stay 100% focused, all the way to the end. It’s not over until it’s over. We had an hour and a half before the start of the stage and I was there with Jonah and Quinn Cody. We were all talking about cruising it in because there was nothing to gain, just about home and hosed. Then I find myself 6km into the stage on my hands and knees with the radiator leaking. I just thought “this cannot be happening”. Anyway, it all worked out in the end.

Ed: So are you going to carry an assortment of sticks in the spares kit from now on?

JS: (Laughs…) I dunno mate! We learned a lot this year and we’ll be in a much better shape for next year with all this under our belts. This is an example of one of those things that can happen. I put it down to experience. You can think you know everything but you never, ever stop learning. I got away with it this time, but what happened will stick in my mind for a lot of years to come, I can tell you!

Ed: Well I think you deserve to feel very proud of what you have done, and you deserve at least a couple of beers to celebrate.

JS: It’s been amazing. I was thinking about it on the way here tonight. It’s pretty much a mission accomplished. I wanted to make the finish and get a result. I’m not rapt with 32nd, but we made it to the end. For our first year, we’ve achieved what we needed to do. We know what we need to change.

Ed: I was chatting to Glenn earlier in the day and I pointed out to him that only 94 of the original 186 bikes made it to the end. You’re still essentially in the top third of the half that finished. No mean feat when so many don’t succeed in their first attempt at Dakar. While it’s really sad that Mark and Warren didn’t make it all the way, neither of them sound like it got the better of them. The work now in front of you all is to build the team finances for next year and to do it bigger again. The support that has come from the Australian community and from some places overseas suggests that it’s more than just possible.

JS: It’s very promising. Just the support that I received personally from Australia has been overwhelming. I never knew that many people would follow it. But the website traffic has shown just how many do. We had over 20,000 hits on the site. Right now, I’m very keen to come back. Halfway through at the rest day I was struggling. This has been the toughest thing I have ever done, no doubt there. But none of the troubles we hit have deterred me.  We need to get the sponsorship and get to work early. We have so much more knowledge now than when we first arrived. We need to put what we have learned into place quickly to capitalise on it.

Ed: Thinking about that issue with the fuel tanks. That was a left turn in the design process fairly late in in proceedings. The team were working on a completely different tank arrangement but you ended up with what you had just because of time in the end. That one problem with the tanks was the single biggest contributor to the bad luck you all experienced as a team. It was a relatively simple, non-moving part but it’s something you know how to do differently.

JS: Absolutely. The only things that gave us trouble were the untested parts. The tanks and the map reader brackets were the only things we had drama with and both are a relatively easy fix, although not when you are over here losing time every day. We’re much better off for the experience now. Everything that we had tested was absolutely fine. The engines were amazing and the rest of the setup was just as solid. There is so much potential with these bikes.

Ed: The wash-up from this year, being the first with the “450 rule” will be a fascinating thing to watch. The engine was definitely the least of your worries. For other riders as prolific as David Casteu that certainly was not the case. In the end, everyone lost count of how many engines he went through and it must have been so demoralising having to pull the bike apart in the desert to select first gear and ride home that way. Even Despres had a scare with his engine making sinister noises part way through one stage. Simon Pavey’s bike was probably the most dynamic grenade with the “leg out of bed”. For top level teams these sorts of problems are disastrous, but if the organisers stick with the rule they’ll have to deal with it. Blown engines don’t just cost time, they can cost you the finish.

JS: I know we had a lot of trouble, but none of them prevented any of us riding. The changes required to make the whole package come together are minor. We don’t have to do any more testing on engines. A redesign of the tanks and a couple of weeks to ride would see that sorted out. We can take a huge amount of confidence from this. It’s just the beginning.

Ed: Well, I should leave you to your celebrations. I know it’s going to be a busy few days up ahead but please make sure that Glenn has a beer too.

JS: I’ll try, but Glenn’s just about toasted. He’s been going so hard for weeks, but I think he’ll relax with us tomorrow night. It’s been fantastic to sit down and have dinner as a team tonight, knowing that we don’t have to rush to get up at 4.30 in the morning. We’ve done 16 days of that. We’re all ready for a break.

"Hey Simon, wake up! We're finished!"

Jacob and Arja in parc ferme, the morning of the ceremonial finish.

Jake tidying up...

"We made it!"

The morning of the ceremonial finish. You'd think that after all this time Jake would be reluctant to get back on the bike!

Just about to ride over the podium for the ceremonial finish.

Smiles all round. The rider couldn't make it without the mechanics.

L-R: Simon Wade, Jake Young and Max Sullivan.

Jake was mobbed by spectators wanting autographs.

A smiling Mark Davidson and a local trying out a rather expensive souvenir.

Some of the GHR crew, a bottle of Bundy, Harry Suzuki and Bruce Garland's mechanics. That's Jake Young asleep at the end.

The GHR truck going to collect wheels and spares from the Malles Motos depot. This puts in perspective how people like Simon Pavey do Dakar. They have a single chest of spares and some tyres carted to bivouac every night.

The work begins again. Everything needs to be cleaned before going to customs. Hard to do in the pouring rain!

We’ll bring you some more updates as the team packs up and comes home.