It’s been a long two years since the last Tatts Finke Desert Race took place.
After three gruelling days, Jack Rhodes and David Pullino took out the iconic ‘King of the Desert’ title in what was an emotional victory, with the South Australian having fallen just short of the race win until his 2019 glory.
The weekend got off to the worst possible start for Rhodes and Pullino – the duo flipping their car in Prologue which forced them down the order once the starting times were released.
While it was despair for Rhodes, Prologue couldn’t have gone better for the superstar of the competition in Toby Price – the famous Queenslander setting the fastest time of the session and beating reigning champion, Shannon Rentsch.
Only three and half seconds separated the two off road titans, but in the end, it was Price who took out the most important part of the event – first off the line and a clear path down to Finke.
Rounding out the top three was current BFGoodrich Motorsport Australia Off Road Championship (AORC) leader Josh Howells, the then 22-year-old only a further four seconds behind Rentsch.
Other big names just missing out on a top three were West Australian star Beau Robinson, former winner Brad Gallard and eventful 2019 AORC champion Mark Burrows.
Race Day 1
An action packed opening day threw up plenty of mixed results for some of the biggest names as Price continued his march to become the first ever individual to be crowned as champion in both a car and on a bike.
By the time the convoy made its way down to Finke, Price and co-driver Jason Duncan had managed to give themselves a handy seven and half minute lead.
Behind them was Rhodes and Pullino – the duo having clawed their way up the field after starting the day in 14th – a mighty effort worthy of being dubbed as the performance of the day.
Just 15 seconds behind Rhodes was another trophy truck in Beau Robinson, who had made up a vital position on Howells.
The big news from the day though was the performance of Shannon and Ian Rentsch, who were fastest through all checkpoints, before a puncture left the nine-time champion limping into Finke a whopping 17 minutes behind Price.
Race Day 2
They say luck plays a major role at Finke and in this case, some of the unlucky drivers continued to be on the wrong side of fortune.
Price, who had put in a faultless drive on the Sunday, failed to make it back to Alice Springs as he was forced to retire due to mechanical dramas early in the day.
Robinson then sustained a similar fate on the way back to Alice Springs and his campaign also ended prematurely thanks to a broken steering rack.
With Robinson and Price both out – it left Rhodes and Pullino in first place and with a clear path towards the chequered flag where they finally won an event that eluded for many years in the past.
Howells and navigator Eric Hume eventually followed through and grabbed a well-deserved runner-up finish ahead of Brett Martin and Andrew De Simone., while Burrows came home in fourth place ahead of Rentsch who successfully completed his comeback.
What Rhodes said
“To finally get across the line in first is just a dream come true, something I wasn’t sure I would ever achieve,” Rhodes said post-event
“I hoped and tried and put 100 per cent in but something would always go wrong. To finally achieve it. it’s something pretty special.
“Coming in from 14th to second… was incredible. We didn’t think we did that well [on day one] but when we saw our time, we were surprised.
“We knew we had done well but we didn’t think we were that good, so it was a really good result.”
If the 2019 running of this prestigious off road event is anything to go by, then AORC fans are in for a huge few days this long weekend.
The 2021 Tatts Finke Desert Race takes place in Alice Springs on 11-14 June.
Photos: Terry Hill Photography