Toby Price and Jason Duncan have taken a massive step towards another Tatts Finke Desert Race title after making it to Finke first.
The reigning champions enjoyed a trouble-free run on the 223-kilometre course to Aputula (Finke) from Alice Springs on Sunday morning – posting an overall time of 1:38:35.389.
While his time was slower than his run last year, Price still finished the day with a comfortable lead, beating Polaris Motorsport Australia Off Road Championship (AORC) leaders Travis Robinson and Andrew Pinto by just over three and half minutes.
Robinson started the day in third place behind his brother Beau Robinson and navigator Shane Hutt, however finished in second place with a solid time of 1:42:19.723.
Posting the third fastest time down to Finke was six-time King of the Desert Shannon Rentsch and Ian Rentsch – their time of 1:43:24.279 edging out Greg Gartner and Jamie Jennings by just 17 seconds.
Rounding out the top five for the day was Josh Howells and Gordon Tardrew after the duo posted a competitive time of 1:44:16.809 – just 35 seconds off the trophy truck of Gartner and Jennings.
One of the standout performers of the opening day was Brent Smoothy and David Walsh after the Extreme 4WD leaders started 10th and finished the day sixth overall.
Just like the close battle for the final podium position, Smoothy and Walsh, the latter of which is attempting to complete the Car/Bike double, snatched sixth overall from Brent Martin and Andre De Simone as 21 seconds separate them at the end of the day.
It’s not all bad news for Martin and De Simone though as they comfortably lead the Prolite class by five minutes over Mel Brandle and Nick Price – the South Australian pairing just missing out a top 10 spot.
Arriving in Finke with the eighth fastest time and the last crew to go under one hour and 50 minutes were Mark and Tom Burrows.
A challenging run for the second OBR crew in Beau Robinson and Shane Hutt saw the duo finish ninth overall after their Trophy Truck experienced major issues.
Thankfully they were able to get moving and post a time of 1:50:17.661, but with the Method Race Wheels Prologue runner-up crew more than 10 minutes behind the leaders, their hopes of winning the title seem bleak.
Taking out the final spot in the top 10 and a further 24 seconds off Beau was Phil Lovett and Luke Stanley.
Method Race Wheels Prologue SXS Pro winner James Cook and Mitch Aucote continued their amazing start to the race as they produced the fastest run of the huge SXS field – their impressive time of 2:02:57.677 also earning them a top 20 finish.
The first race day of the Tatts Finke Desert Race also had its fair share of drama too as a number of crews failed to finish – the most notable being Aaron and Tanner James, who crashed out before the first checkpoint.
Ben Gartner, Nicholas Commins and Paul Weel were among the other notable drivers who were unable to finish the run down to Finke.
The 2023 Tatts Finke Desert Race continues tomorrow with Price to begin his run back to Alice Springs at 7:15am ACST.