When Aaron James crossed the finish line at the Tatts Finke Desert Race in June, few would have expected him to finish as high as he did – especially running in the toughest race without a co-driver.
It was an extremely difficult lead up for the New South Welshman as his 10-man crew was reduced to two just a week out from the race as a result of Victoria’s lockdown.
Making matters even harder was that his navigator was also left behind due to the lockdown, meaning James was on his own for the race itself and had just two friends to help – neither of which were able to recover him should he break down.
It forced James to take a conservative approach in his first attempt at the race in more than five years, which proved to be a blessing in disguise as he was able to work his way to Finke and back again without taking risks.
Although many struggled on the unforgiving course, James produced an incredible run without a navigator or a GPS, qualifying in fifth and finishing the race one spot higher for a career-high fourth place.
And while he would have been forgiven for getting a bit emotional, he couldn’t help but feel relieved.
“We had a lot of emotional baggage heading up there but once I actually finished it – it was more relief than anything else as we finally got the monkey off our back,” James said.
“Honestly, I was just happy to be at Finke because of all the uncertainty beforehand. We had everything organised and had planned for a two-seater race but because I live right on the NSW/VIC border and the majority of the crew live down south, we lost all but two.
“We were very light on and because of that I had to be fairly conservative. So while I was rapt to get down to Finke and then back up again – it was more a relief if anything.
“I was happy with my own achievement because it’s my first major race in a single seater and I couldn’t use the GPS either, so I enjoyed the experience of a challenge.”
Thankfully, James won’t have to worry too much about running solo for the Hindmarsh Shire Rainbow Desert Enduro at the end of August.
With his crew all Victorian, James is likely to have more support for the BFGoodrich Motorsport Australia Off Road Championship’s (AORC) third round of the 2021 season as he continues his charge up the standings.
Thanks to his P4 in Alice Springs, James now sits in ninth place on the standings, just 20 points behind the third placed Greg Gartner and 30 off the championship leader in Josh Howells.
However, the 52-year-old admits that while it would be nice to continue moving up the standings, his focus for 2021 is to get as many races as he can in 2021.
“At my age, I can’t do much sport outside of racing so that’s why it is important for me to get as many events as I can,” James added.
“I have a lot of respect for the other drivers in the AORC and it’s nice to be doing well, but for me I am not interested in winning a title – I just want to enjoy myself as I love racing.
“My intention was always to do Kalgoorlie because I crewed for a friend a while back and I felt like it was an awesome race. With Rainbow and Loveday less than 200km from my house, it also makes sense for me to go those two rounds too.
“So from that point of view, we will be doing every round of the AORC this year and I am happy that I get to go, but honestly, we’ll just take it as it comes because in the current climate, it’s very hard to confirm plans.
“I am really keen to do Rainbow because that white sand at the back is really good, but hopefully it doesn’t rain as much as it has in previous years.”
James is one of 45 crews to have already locked in a spot for the AORC’s third round with entries open for another two weeks.
The Hindmarsh Shire Rainbow Desert Enduro takes place in the West Victorian rural town of Rainbow on 27-29 August.
Photos: Terry Hill Photography