Race Report – Finke 2019
Starting over 40 years ago as a bike race between mates from Alice Springs to Finke and back down the old Ghan Railway line, the Tatts Finke Desert Race has evolved to become the ‘Bathurst of the Bush’. While the event has grown to become the biggest event in the red centre, it’s kept what made it special at it’s heart, ensuring teams return year after year for not only the elusive ‘Railway Spike’, but also the adventure.
With the red Finke dust pumping already pumping through their veins, Patriot’s Justin Montesalvo and Tommy Mills were back in 2019. This time running their own program in an all new machine, the four door Polaris RZR Turbo S built inhouse at Patriot HQ.
“I test drove one in the dunes at Camp RZR at Glamis in October 2018, and knew straight away it was the machine for Finke. With the long wheelbase, 72” track and 32” tyres it was made for eating the whoops which make Finke famous.”
Before the Turbo S was on the water, Patriot teamed up with Sparks and Cognito Motorsports from San Diego and tapped into their Baja 1000 conquering formula. Custom suspension arms from Cognito, and a Sparks exhaust and ECU tuner were soon on their way. Five weeks out from Finke, the first Turbo S in the country rolled through the doors of Patriot’s Gold Coast headquarters. Brown Davis set to work on the CAMS spec rollcage, while Ross McNab from the Desert Speed Lab set up a set of remote reservoir Fox Shocks to replace the factory live valve system.
When it came time to race, Patriot was already in good hands, with the same manufacturers that supply the components for the Supertourer builds, GME, Brown Davis, Xray Vision and Method Wheels all ready to hit the track to Finke and back. New to the 2019 Finke package were the 32” Tensor Tires, which paired with the Method Race Wheels had been a game changer in the USA.
DASH ACROSS THE SIMPSON
The build was completed just 7 days before scrutineering in Alice Springs, Patriot’s Finke adventure was only just clicking into gear. The Polaris and Toy Hauler was dropped off at TJM HQ in the early hours of Friday morning to make the trip to Alice by tar, while the Black Truck and the two PCOR Supertourers were loaded and fuelled for a dash across the Simpson in true Patriot style.
Rolling into Birdsville not long after the flooding started to recede, the word on the street was the QAA Line across the Simpson was still impassable. With the clock ticking, the alternative routes to Finke via the Madigan Line or the Plenty Hwy were quickly ruled out. Leaving no stone unturned, Justin and the boys took to the skies for a reconnaissance mission over Eyre Creek in a light plane. Touching back down in Birdsville the call was made to lock Mt Dare into the GPS and get down to business on the QAA Line.
By the time the three PCOR Supertourers hit the edge of the muddy swamp that was Eyre Creek, there was no time to back track. Down a front diff in the Black 79, this episode of Patriot Games was about to get real. Eight hours of winching and an epic all nighter in the desert followed before the crew reached the outback oasis of Mt Dare on Monday afternoon. Refuelled and refreshed, the Finke start line was calling. The trucks noses were pointed north towards Alice Springs, where they checked in to town during the early hours of Wednesday morning.
Reunited with the #688 Patriot Polaris RZR Turbo S, Justin, Tommy and the team wasted no time buckling up and putting some kilometres on the factory fresh build over the next two days. The suspension and power delivery of the Turbo S was on point out of the box, however despite the modified clutch weights and air intake, the belt temps crept into dangerous territory during testing when pushed to the limit. With no time left in the bank, it meant top speed would need to be limited to manage the temperatures on the wide open sections.
Meanwhile, Alice Springs had been bubbling with excitement as race day drew nearer. A Freestyle FMX Show in the Todd Mall got the party started on Thursday night, before the 600+ bikes and the 150+ racecars, including the #688 Patriot Polaris RZR Turbo S went on display under lights on the Finke start line on Friday night. It would be the last chance the general public have to see the offroad racing machinery before it was unleashed on the desert, and over 8000 fans grabbed the opportunity.
Saturday saw a chilly pre-dawn start for the prologue to determine the starting order. Firing the Turbo S up in anger for the first time, Justin and Tommy finished 28th in the SXS Turbo class and 77th overall, which meant there was a lot of hard work ahead for the team on the run south to Finke.
“I was disappointed with our prologue. It’s the first time we’ve raced since Finke last year and with the limited testing on our brand new Turbo S we didn’t really know what it was capable of. Having said that, it is a long race and that’s what we are here for.” Said Justin.
Sunday morning was the start of the main game, the 225km leg down the old Ghan Railway from Alice Springs to Apatula (Finke). As the sun crested the horizon and the final notes of the national anthem drifted across the startline, the engines of the trophy trucks, buggies and SXS’s were fired up in anticipation of the race ahead. At 7:45 Toby Price left the line in a cloud of dust, followed by Rentsch, Robinson and co. Staged next to a V8 powered Extreme 2wd truck, Justin and Tommy waited for the moment to pounce. When the lights turned green they unleashed the four wheel drive grip of the Turbo S and snatched the holeshot. However the battle wasn’t over, with the duo trading blows until the Polaris checked out on the looming giant down the track.
“The dust hanging in the air for the first 30km was horrendous. We took it easy until it cleared then started to reel in a few others in our class. The car was fast and the longer wheelbase of the Turbo S and the 32” Tensors made light work of the rough.”
Despite doing their best to manage the belt temps by limiting the maximum rpm to just 7000, the belt started to slip around the 140km mark. Rather than risking a breakage, Justin and Tommy pulled over and broke out the spanners for a quick belt change, losing 6 or 7 places on the road in the process. Back in business they charged ahead and arrived in Finke in style, hitting the final tabletop wide open.
“We made up 24 places on the run south and we were both very happy with the result, especially with a brand new car and no seat time for 12 months.”
“The reception we received from the 22 Patriot Camper families that joined us for ‘Camp Finke’ was special. They formed a huge arch when we arrived at the Finke bivouac. It was like we’d won.”
Overnight the team prepped the Turbo S for the return leg to Alice Springs. Ross from the Desert Speed Lab rebuilt the shocks, while the crew worked on the ducting to reduce the heat load from the exhaust on the belt and shocks. An early night was followed by an even earlier morning, with the drivers briefed and the race cars taking their place on the Finke grid well before the desert dawn.
Starting at 30 second intervals, the first 50-60 kilometres in the dust were hell as Justin and Tommy threaded their way back up the leaderboard. The overnight modifications had worked a treat, with the belt temps down by over 10° and through the infamous whoops at Rodinga and Bundooma the Polaris was on song.
Between 80 and 100 kilometres from home, Justin lost front wheel drive and backed it in to a corner and out over the top of a berm. A retaining clip that had niggled on the run south had come back to bite them. Now effectively in three wheel drive, they focused on the finishline and kept it smooth all the way home to greet the chequered flag in 31st and 8th in the SXS Turbo class.
“There’s no feeling like it. 50% of the field don’t make it there and back, finishing this race is a feat in itself. Our goal was to make it home in the top ten in class and we achieved it. Polaris have built an absolute weapon in the Turbo S and we can’t wait to put some more R&D into it. It’s a car that’s capable of going on to win championships.”
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