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October 20 round 4 inland Pony Express Upper Horton

So with the trailer loaded Thursday, and ready to hook up and go Friday morning, it was just a case of a good night’s sleep and ready for the six hour drive inland.  With this being the final round of the series for the year, it was being held on Saturday – for series presentation and after party Saturday night.

Once again up the Dorrigo mountain headin’ off to our overnight stay at a two horse town, Barraba, which is only thirty kilometres from the track.  It was a good run all the way and with a few stops we arrived six and a half hours later – just watching the landscape change getting flatter and drier.

Checked in and had a chill out, then decided to head into the RSL for tea.  With a great selection from the menu it was either steak and chips, steak and veg, or steak and salad.  Feeling very much like the outsiders we were with every one looking at us, we decided on steak and vegies and let’s get outta here a quick as possible (ordering a schooner of water at the bar was not something I wanted to do – so I sent the missus up for the drinks!).

Saturday morning arrives, get up at our leisure, as the last round is a little bit of a casual affair and racing starts later than usual which would turn out to be a CATASTROPHIC CHOICE and take its toll on quite a few riders.

It was getting hot already by 8am and hydration would be a major priority today as they were predicting 36 degrees plus today (which is amazing, as this time last week it was SNOWING here).


As I hadn’t raced this event before I went around to a couple of locals I now and picked the brain on what I could expect out there.  They said a longer course than usual – three properties are used for this track and a missive ridge line that runs for 3 kilometres called the RAZOR BACK joins all the properties.

So heading out on sighting lap I knew straight away dust would be an issue in the first couple of laps with two creek crossings then a nice open paddock section down a long a dry creek bed for one and a half klms, through a pipe under the main road we drove in on, then some more open paddocks. Then we hit the razor back which unfortunately I couldn’t get a picture of but it’s basically just wide enough for 4×4 to drive along but either side it’s just sheer cliff face for about 300mts down and at the end of a massive 5th gear straight they put  six big truck tyres at the end to stop you ending up at the moon – don’t wanna get this wrong or it’s a helicopter ride out!!!  The rest of the track was typical of the inland – quite open and fast.  Back at the start I looked at speedo and the track was 25klms long which is about 7 klms longer than any other track this year and decided to pit after 3 laps to be sure on fuel knowing that six to seven laps would see it.

So a quick talk of tactics with Sonia (my lovely partner) it was time to line up at the start.  With the mercury rising we were off!!!!

October 20 round 4 inland Pony Express Upper Horton (2)

(The starting grid at Upper Horton – 80 riders and an attrition rate of 23% – nearly a quarter of these guys won’t finish!)

Bad start as usual but learning from Inverell not to worry too much – it’s a long race and don’t crash or damage the bike first up.  It was dam dusty.  Just poking along until things settle a bit, I was following another iron man he went the wrong way I followed and got lost in the creek bed – but I was quick to realise I got it wrong and got back on track quick, but lost a few places in the process so lap one down with no issues, feeling good.

Lap two, heading out from pits, I had a little crash on a corner I cut a little tight but nothing too bad.  Then getting back on I crashed again fifty metres later, just out of the creek crossing, twisting my bars and a bit of skin off my right forearm.  Jumping off to quickly straighten my bars, recollect myself and get on with the job.  These two small crashes would prove to be fatal at race end but, apart from these two crashes, the rest of the day would turn out drama free.

Lap three – the temperature was going through the roof.  I was feeling quite strong and comfortable with the pace but my hands were getting a little sore and I feel the new Michelin mousse I was running up front was too hard and could have had a piece cut out of it to soften the front.  I was contemplating stopping and softening the fork but decided to push on the rest of the race with it, as I have found out from past races, things can get tight towards the end and every second counts.  Lap three over, time for fuel, some lollies, change camel back, fresh goggles.  In the pits,  Nick Rummery came over to see me (he’s won all the races this year) and I ask him what’s happened?  He had a massive crash and bent his bars and un able to finish.  But he’s unbeatable for the outright even with his DNF today.  It was just nice to see even the class leader have some bad luck this year and not just me!

Lap four and one hour and fifty minutes down I was nine minutes and fifty seconds off first place and in forth position.  But Sonia let me now there have been two guys quit, and also first place – as far ahead as he was – had been in the pits spewing his guts up!!!  So anything could happen to him.  So just go – get up on the pegs and flow and with two hours and ten minutes left there was plenty of time to chase.

Lap five and six were just pretty much the same just keeping up on the pegs and hydrating.  It was HOT HOT HOT – 40 degrees plus now, and feeling it.  I think everyone else was too – with 18 DNF out of 80 riders all up (even the team riders were failing).  This is where all the training pays off – being able to back yourself until the end.  Rolling into the pits last lap board was up.  Knowing from the first three laps that I didn’t hit reserve I would get the last lap in without stopping for more fuel.  This is where the little ktm 200 excels!!!  With its 11.5 litre tank its good for 110klms at race pace where a lot of MX bike have to stop 3 to 4 times.

Lap seven – the last – feeling super fit I decided to have a dip at the fastest lap, and as typical with me, my last lap all season has been my fastest.  There’s a separate trophy just for that- all classes combined – and I put in a flyer with 37.48 minutes but no where near the winner, Dan Ralph with his 29.52 was amazing, but a team rider should have a bit more steam than me!

So come race end I ended up third for the day and missed second by 16 seconds!!  As I said earlier, those two small crashes cost me big, but what I’m most happy about was the gap I closed on first place.  From 9 minutes 50 sec at the 1hour 50 mark, I closed that gap to 2 minutes 10 sec by race end!  So with seven laps all up it was only two A grade teams that managed to do eight laps for the day and only just.

It was just a matter of packing the trailer up, heading over to the upper Horton sports club house for a shower and round and series presentation, which is right in the middle of the track and camping grounds.  The Upper Horton community is very hospitable and love having this event here, with a massive pig on spit and camp oven vegies for tea.

October 20 round 4 inland Pony Express Upper Horton (3)

(The view of Upper Horton from atop the Razorback)

On to presentation – the tough guys (the IRON MAN class) – as I said earlier, Nick Rummery was unbeatable and took the series outright for the year.  Aaron Simmons 2nd outright (which is crazy as he only finished on the podium once, in third, all series long usually back in 6th and 7th ) but it just goes to show you need to finish all the races to be in with a good result.  Finally to me – I finished 3rd for the day and third outright for the series – taking a DNF at Coolatai;  2nd at Uralla;  5th at Inverell;  and a 3rd at Upper Horton.  If it wasn’t for a DNF at Coolatai the result could have been much better – at the very worst 2nd outright,  maybe even with Nick’s crash and a DNF today I could have won the series outright!  A good lesson learned – must finish all races no matter what!, but still totally pleased with my return to racing.

Moving on to other grades with Coffs Harbour boys doing us proud, Dan Ralph and Jordan Rose taking the round win, and outright win for A grade teams,  Sam Panell and Jessie Jenkins taking 3rdoutright in the A grade teams (which is amazing as they only race one round at Uralla and still got 3rd).

I love these four hour races, as it’s not just about the fastest guy out there – you need to be fit and have a good set up and game plan.  Looking forward to next season, after learning some of the venues and it’s also worth noting that its usually a seven round series, but this year due to flooding and events clashes we lost Moree,  Bike Territory, and Narrabri rounds.  With some more rounds to fight for the series, I think with a good clean year next year I should be right up there.

As always a massive thank you to Coffs KTM, and personal note thanks Mark DOC Downie long-time friend with heaps of good advice and endless help with bike set up!!!  Jerry Bernardo who hooked me up with some free stuff for the year, and UNIT clothing for keeping me in the latest street wear.  My kids for being good and helpful at the races, and my beautiful partner, Sonia – she’s the back bone of it all, does all the driving and organising so I can concentrate on racing.  Megan Hyde from New England Brumby Sanctuary for her hospitality and accommodation when racing in that area.


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