Competitors were treated to a seabreeze and perfect clear skies today throughout the 3 timed sections between Geraldton and Kalbarri. GHR Honda rider Warren Strange was first on road at 6.30am for the SS1 Coronation North 18.21km beach run. The stage was won by KTM rider Matt Fish, closely followed by GHR riders Todd Smith, brother Jacob and Warren Strange all less than a minute behind. In the quad division GHR rider Paul Smith came in 10 seconds behind Glenn Brown for second place.

Strange arrived at the end 106.75km of the SS2 Whelarra stage 03.28 ahead of Jacob Smith. Shane Diener followed in third, but Todd Smith succumbed to engine troubles and DNF’d the stage. He’s now out of contention for an second Safari win this year and also the Dakar challenge, but he will continue tomorrow and try to help the other team members. In the quads, Paul Smith dropped to third place due to a puncture.

Leaving the coastal sand for some tighter running and trickier navigation, the field turned inland for the 76.36km SS3 Murchison Off Road stage. This traced along the dry bed of the Murchison River and challenged riders with ongoing sections of tight corners. Strange missed a turn and lost a minute making good, but Jacob Smith pushed ahead to make up some useful time. Paul Smith recovered some time after replacing his punctured tyre to end up second in the quad division.

Overall GHR class standings at end of Leg 1.

1st – #2 Jacob Smith – M3.2 – 02:12:42
2nd – #7 Warren Strange – M3.2 – 02:13:20
8th – #8 Brett Cummings (SA) – M2.2 – 02:32:25
11th – #10 Mike Johnson (USA) – M3.2 – 02:38:44
14th – #23 Guy Henley (SA) – M2.2 – 02:40:19
27th – #22 Glen Grundy (SA) – M2.2 – 03:21:03

2nd – #92 Paul Smith – Q1.2 – 02:47:08

18th – #178 Glenn Hoffmann – BUGGY – 03:09:46

Rider comments:

Jacob Smith: “The sand in SS1 was great fun. I caught Shane in SS2 and I’ll be really interested to see the times for SS3. It was tight but I nailed it.”

Warren Strange: “SS1 was great fun. I made no mistakes other than finding my way down to the waterline at just the right time to be swamped by a wave. In SS2 I missed a turn, found the track quickly and kept going but another error in SS3 cost me about a minute. I’m running well but really not wanting to take risks. I felt right at home in the sand.”

Brett Cummings: “A good day! SS1 navigation in the sand was pretty simple but in SS2 it was harder. I loved the tight conditions in SS3.”

Paul Smith: “The sand and whoops in SS1 were draining and looking at the tracks all over the place people were making mistakes. I made some myself but did OK. A flat front tyre in SS2 slowed me down. I have to say SS3 was one of the best stages I’ve ever been on. More of that please!

Mike Johnson: “I had a clean ride, no problems, I didn’t crash into anything so I’m happy. I stopped to help someone for a couple of minutes too. I wasn’t so keen on the beach section but the tight tracks later were excellent.”

Guy Henley: “A good day out. I admit I was nervous about roos in the beginning. I’m still learning but the sand is very similar to the conditions we race in at home. Tomorrow I’ll keep a constant pace and see what we can pick off.”

Glen Grundy: “I found the beach tricky – it wasn’t always a clear track as such, just a series of trails behind the first dune and very slippery. Once I got off the sand it was brilliant. I picked up a few spots, but having passed 3 mechanical failures I can’t say it’s all talent. I rode with Tamsin Jones for a long while today. She was without fuel at the splash and dash so I gave her some to keep her going. The riverbed was different to what we know from home, crossing it back and forth rather than riding straight down a canyon. All smiles today.”

Glenn Hoffmann: “2004 was the last time I was racing personally, so this is a nice change. I’m still getting to know the car so tomorrow I’ll just keep on driving it and see how we go.”

Tomorrow’s Leg 2 Kalbarri – Carnarvon will be a long day for competitors and crews with two timed stages. SS4 Kalbarri consists of 230.35kms of mixed terrain and farm tracks before service at Hamelin. The first half of the 260.62kms SS5 Wooramel River returns to the coast briefly as it rounds Shark Bay Marine Park before breaking inland and heading north.