AUSTRALIA’S first cross-country desert rally, the 1971 BP Sunraysia, was held long before the evolution of the modern 4x4.
At that time the hot set-ups were SWB Series 1 Landies, VW-powered ‘dune buggies’, and one hopeful punter in a Steyr-Daimler-Puch 700AP Haflinger.
Fast forward almost half a decade – and three years since the unfortunate demise of the Australian Safari – and the Sunraysia has risen again. A four-day, sixteen-stage, 2400km rally based in the border city of Mildura where – despite low key pre-event publicity – all the usual suspects could be found.
Star of the show was Coconut Racing’s Century CR6, a South African-built, 7.0-litre, V8-powered, Dakar-spec racer driven by rookie Luke Olholm. Certainly the CR6 proved quickest over several stages once young Luke got control of it, but due to the rally being held under Confederation of Australian Motor Sport regulations (CAMS) – which specify a 6.0-litre limit – the CR6 wasn’t classified in the results.
Official winner was the John Purshouse/Toni Feaver Ford Ranger which, despite a flat tyre on the first leg, losing its clutch on the second, and suffering an intermittent misfire throughout the four days, came home strongly to secure the win over three-time Australian Safari Champion Steve Riley in the 6.0-litre Commodore ute.
The Purshouse Ranger, built by Neil Woodridge Motorsport in South Africa, is an FIA-homologated tubular chassis built around a 2017 Ford Mustang 5.0-litre Coyote V8. Of course, it’s standard and comes in a crate that says so; it’s also stamped 435hp Race Use Only. The Ranger carries 450 litres of premium to feed the beast.
Third outright was local orchardist John Hederics, a bloke who can claim a total of 10 Australian Safari victories that date back to the legendary Wynn’s Sydney to Darwin epics. Like most blokes who live off the land, Hedge is reluctant to throw out anything that might, one day, be useful. This is why the 2000 Safari-winning Nissan Patrol was still sitting in the shed.
“We threw a battery at it and changed the oil” Hederics said. “And she was ready to roll.”
John’s youngest son, Toby Hederics, was second in the bike division which was won by Dakar veteran Rod Faggotter.
With a course that’s equally suited to rally cars, soft-road racers (such as the Rob Herridge Subaru Forrester XT) and 4x4 racers, the Sunraysia Safari has certainly sparked the revival of cross-country racing down under.