We caught up with Ben Napier and Pete Antunac, two seasoned KOH competitors who hail from Australia.
See our full King of the Hammer coverage here
We introduced you to Sydney-based Ben Napier’s KOH career in 2010. With a strong track record at home, he had borrowed a Bomber Fabrication buggy and gained sponsorship from King Shocks, Raceline Wheels, BFGoodrich and CTM.
He only made it to race mile 80, but he was hooked on KOH adrenaline. He followed up by serving as an apprentice to Bomber Fabrication owner Randy Slawson – paying his dues and learning from one of the industry’s best. Napier went on to be a force in ULTRA4, landing a second place overall in the 2011 series, and he has competed in every KOH since 2010. He landed a fifth place finish in 2013 and won the Legends Class in 2015. Rolling into the 2017 season, he is easily considered a seasoned veteran in the ULTRA4 circles.
We spent time with Ben to get the low-down on what it takes to compete in the toughest one-day race on the planet.
How does KOH stack up to Australian rock racing events, and has it become more difficult?
There’s nothing like it in Australia – Outback Challenge is about as close as it comes. There’s some amazing terrain at Broken Hill, but nothing rivals the Hammers. KOH is, and always will be, the longest and toughest race out there. It’s become more difficult and serious. It’s no longer a week to go party and play around – we are racing to win.
How did this year’s race go and what were the challenges?
We didn’t get to do much prerunning, as Top Gear was using our vehicle for filming. We got it back right before qualifying and, unfortunately, the Atlas transfer case must have been damaged.
It grenaded during qualifying, causing us to start at the back of the class. We took it easy and worked our way up from mid-30s start position to top 5 at the end of the first lap. A long pit stop to fix a broken link bolt put us back to the high 20s, but we fought back and finished seventh in class.
Are you coming back for 2018?
I hope to bring my Penhall ULTRA4 back to the US and enter the main race again. I’ve come fifth overall before and desperately want to win.
What advice do you have for an Aussie who wants to race KOH?
Research and get over there. Join a team and help out.
Understand out how crazy it is. Prep, prep, prep, test, and prep some more. Work on your car for months on end, become sleep deprived, and spend all your money… and then some. When you finally get over there, have an awesome time racing!
With a long career here at home, Pete flew across the pond in 2013 to help friends with their car and get a feel for the event. He set his KOH sights on 2015 and spent the next two years building a vehicle. This year marks the first time he finished the race, and we spent an afternoon with him in Hammertown to get the lowdown on his first three years.
Can you tell us about your first two years as a KOH competitor?
After two years building the vehicle, we had a bit of bad luck in 2015, losing a rear shock and reverse gear. I suppose it was mostly from inexperience with this type of racing.
Has KOH become more difficult in the three years you have been competing?
I would say it is evolving, and fast. There are a lot of teams building new cars, and it has become much more expensive to be competitive.
What was your strategy for this year’s race?
For this car it’s not really about strategy. There are some great drivers and teams out there. We don’t need to drive faster, we just need to match their pace, maybe get a better line in the rocks.
I’m not here to just finish the race; if that as the goal I would have spent half the money and had a car like everyone else. We were coming off of three wins in a row back home and had a good chance of being in the top 10.
Can you tell us about your decision to run IFS and IRS?
I wanted to do something different, to have independent all around. Having the portal hubs gives you an advantage from one perspective, but we found that there are disadvantages as well. We’ve done everything we can this year to increase the strength. The car has been great and done everything we want it to do and more.
If someone back home had their sights on KOH, what advice would you have?
If you don’t have a spare half-million dollars, you’d probably not bother. You can do it for a lot less if you are not worried about placing a top 10 and just want the experience.
It is definitely worth trying. I’d start with the Every Man Challenge and get as many sponsors as you can.