Stage 11: A first for GHR, a first for Honda, a first for Australia!

GHR Honda quad rider Paul Smith #274, Australia's first quad pilot at Dakar in 2013

GHR Honda's #274 Paul Smith, Australia's first quad pilot at Dakar in 2013, winner of Stage 11. Picture: Mike Chmiel.

34 year old Victorian dairy farmer #274 Paul Smith had ventured into the 11th Dakar stage in trepidation. The white sands of Fiambalá have a menacing reputation amongst riders, and he was aware that many Dakar competitors have been snared by them in past years. Today his objective was just to reach the finish, but his reality was to be far more rewarding when he crossed the line in the fastest time. In doing so, Paul stands as the first Australian to clench a stage victory since the late Andy Caldecott, and the first Honda rider on two or four wheels to top the time sheets at this year’s event. His finish 00:04:18 ahead of Gaston Gonzalez and 00:05:42 in front of event leader Marcos Patronelli elevates Smith to 8th overall. A high speed tumble cost a small amount of time but a quick recovery and careful navigation kept him on top at all but two waypoints.

The #274 TRX700XX quad was modified yesterday by team mechanics to optimise cooling along with the three CRF450Xs in the moto class. Extra thermo-electric fans were fitted, passive ventilation improved while surplus weight was removed. Consequently Smith was able to push harder than before in the soft terrain. It transpired that today was never as hot as expected. Recent precipitation suppressed dust for the riders but this also meant soft mud supplanted soft sand as the challenge de jour. However, fortune would have it that they were just spared the most significant result of the rainfall. Only a handful of cars made half way through the stage before flash flooding rolled through to render it impassable for the larger vehicles. Accordingly race organisers neutralised the stage at CP1 for their categories.

Comments from #156 Todd Smith:
“It was raining pretty much the whole stage off and on, lots of creek crossings and running water. In the first 50km of the stage, I had trouble finding my way and was consequently lost with about 30 other bikes. Brett Cummings eventually came along and led me back the right path. Had a fair few scares on the rough, broken track. I just focused on getting to the end of today – there were about 30 dropouts on this stage last year and about 15 bikes this year… pretty tough going. Ben Grabham caught me and passed me, so I latched on the back of him and we raced for a while. Then we caught Rod Faggotter and the three of us had a ball together to the finish. Closing in on the end of Dakar, my aim is to just cruise through to the finish now.”

GHR times and overall placings: MOTO
32nd #131 – STRANGE Warren (AUS) +03:52:37 behind leader (20th on stage)
41st #156 – SMITH Todd (AUS) +04:57:22 behind leader (23rd on stage)
59th #089 – CUMMINGS Brett (ZAF) +07:34:56 behind leader (50th on stage)

GHR times and overall placings: QUAD
8th #274 – SMITH Paul (AUS) +04:50:03 behind leader (1st on stage)

Just three stages remain in the 2013 edition of Dakar, but the race still has plenty of ground to cover. Stage 12: Fiambalá > Copiapó starts at 04:15 tomorrow morning with a 392km transport over the western border of Argentina back into Chile. Peaking early at around 3,000m above sea level, 319km of highly variable terrain snakes back into the Atacama Desert for the special.

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Stage 12: Fiambalá > Copiapó. Courtesy of” width=”590″ height=”266″ /><p class=Stage 12: Fiambalá > Copiapó. Courtesy of