For over 30 years the Dakar Rally has epitomised the toughest off-road racing challenge on the planet, and this year’s 14-day, 8000-kilometre epic spanning Peru, Argentina and Chile is no exception.
Riders who sign up for the Dakar are of a special calibre, but HSE Motorex KTM Desert Racing Team rider Grabham is more special than most.
Less than nine months ago, the 31-year-old was seriously hurt while attempting a fourth win in the high-speed Condo 750 at Condoblin, when at 150kph he encountered a mob of kangaroos.
The subsequent crash left him with injuries including a broken spine and a punctured lung, but after months of intensive rehab and recovery work he surprised many by fronting the starter for the A4DE national enduro titles in late October.
A fourth in class and a solid top ten finish ticked off that part of the recovery, and suddenly the goal which he and KTM Australia had shared of competing in next year’s Dakar was squarely back in the sights.
“Dakar had always been the plan but when I found Skippy at Condo I thought that was over,” says Grabham, “however, because Jeff (Leisk – KTM General Manager) is always part of our racing he knows me and how driven I am and when KTM committed to me early in my recovery it gave me a lot of drive and made me very positive about getting there.
For KTM’s Jeff Leisk, the decision to continue with the Dakar plan wasn’t difficult:
“Ben has been great since he came on board with us in 2009 and broke our Finke desert race drought. More importantly though, he’s just amazing to work with; a real professional who conducts himself well all the time, and is a team player with mentoring new people to desert racing. He’s just an open book and willingly passes on what he knows.
“In some ways Dakar is a reward for everything he’s done for our brand and for his loyalty and it’s an opportunity he richly deserves. So, for us it’s as much a decision from the heart as one of as strategy and product marketing.”
KTM Australia has plenty of history with the Dakar Rally in supporting riders such as Andy Haydon, David Schwarz and the late Andy Caldecott who have been stage winners or podium finishers and created a high level of interest for the event in Australia.
Australia’s only full-time desert racer, Bathurst resident Grabham’s campaign is a two-year program, making his maiden voyage something of a reconnaissance for 2014. But that’s not to say the three-time Australasian Safari Champion and four-time Finke Desert Race winner will be any less than fully prepared or focussed when he faces the starter early in the New Year:
“After a big break off the bike, the 4-day a month ago was a good gauge for me,” said Grabham. “I was pretty comfortable and the back didn’t do anything crazy – it was better than I ever thought was possible. Now I’m pretty much where I was hoping to be before I crashed.
“This is the biggest race in the world and there’ll be a lot of years and experience I’ll have to call on to get through it. I’m excited, but with 500-600 kilometres a day and a lot of long hours of altitude and heat and cold ahead it’s going to be a big mission!”
Ben will ride a 2012 KTM 450 Rally which, on the eve of the world’s biggest off-road race, truly epitomises the KTM mantra, “Ready to Race”.
“Anyone can order one, it’s a turnkey package,” says Leisk. “Ben will give it a shakedown and fine tune the suspension settings then it will be checked and boxed and sent to South America.
Grabham will be accompanied by former Husaberg Rally Team Manager Garry Connell and Mechanic Mike Faulkner and regular updates detailing Ben’s progress will be available on the KTM website and the KTM Australia Facebook page.
Credit: KTM Australia