The Finke Desert Race is one of Australia’s toughest off-road motorsport events, attracting nearly 700 vehicles and 12,000 spectators.

Story By Kelly Theobald

People huddle around drums of fire as the sun rises over the desert, illuminating the red sand. Suddenly, the roar of 550 horsepower breaks through the still air, the first of a chorus of revving engines. The smell of petrol and nerves hangs in the still air at the start line of the Finke Desert Race, a competition for glory between more than 80 cars and buggies and almost 600 motorbikes.
The annual event is a 460-kilometre two-day race from Alice Springs to the remote Aputula (Finke) community and back along the old Ghan line. It’s one of the Northern Territory’s biggest sporting events and is also known as one of Australia’s toughest off-road races.
In 1976 a group of motorbike riders from Alice Springs raced to the Finke River and back, and the event has been held on the Queen’s Birthday long weekend ever since. Cars and off-road buggies were introduced in 1988, sparking an ongoing rivalry between the bikes and the cars.
Finke Desert Race president Antony Yoffa says the event has become an integral date on the Alice Springs calendar. “An estimated 12,000 spectators camp along the track and, along with the 3560 interstate competitors and pit crew, the race brings approximately $3.8 million into the Alice Springs community from interstate,” he says.
For one interstate competitor, the race is the climax of months of preparation. Tim Walker from Millicent, SA, has attended the race as a spectator but 2012 is his first attempt as a rider. “They reckon it’s the hardest race, so I thought I’d come and give it a go,” he says. “I’ve done a lot of riding and fitness training leading up to the race so I’m not too nervous – I just want to get there and back and not break any limbs.”
Competitors must attend a scrutineering session on the Friday night of the race weekend. Their bikes, buggies and cars are inspected by officials to ensure they comply with important safety regulations before being put on display for spectators.
The following morning all competitors must complete an eight-kilometre prologue track to determine their starting order. Race day one sees the cars and buggies race to Finke, followed by the bikes. Competitors then roll out their swags for the night before racing back the following day.

This story excerpt is from Issue #85

Outback Magazine: Oct/Nov 2012