IT WAS the tale of two Tobys at the Finke Desert Rally this year, as two men set out on their implausible missions over the long weekend, after spending the day together getting their off-road truck-racing licences on the Friday.
Rarely, if ever, have two blokes with P plates on their cars achieved so much. Toby Price, the more famous of the two - a four-time Finke winner on a motorcycle and this year’s surprising Dakar champion, at the tender age of 28 - set himself for the “Iron Man” challenge of contesting Finke on both two wheels and four, a feat only achieved once in history.
Simply completing each stage - a gruelling 256km from Alice Springs to Finke along a track about as bumpy and welcoming as a crocodile’s back - in a Trophy Truck before flying back to the start line to do it again on his usual KTM motorcycle would have been a remarkable feat.
But for this freakish, fearless and hugely competitive young man that was never going to be enough, and despite qualifying 19th in his 6.0-iltre V8 Geiser Brothers truck - after running off the track twice in the Prologue - Price was fifth after the first day, and then brought it home to Alice on day two in second place. In his first off-road truck race, ever.
Less surprisingly, and despite the physical battering he’d already taken in the truck, he also won the bike competition for a record-equalling fifth time, and did so in just 3 hours, 46 minutes and 55 seconds overall, a full six minutes faster than he went when winning it last year, without the added Iron Man effort.
On the Saturday evening, when asked how he’d managed to get past so many competitors in trucks and buggies on the narrow and treacherous course, Price was sheepishly apologetic.
“I hope the off-road guys aren’t too pissed off with me, because I kind of came up behind a few of them and gave them a bit of a tap to get out of the way, just a bit of a love tap, really, but that’s what my team told me to do,” he explained.
That’s right, he “love tapped” his competitors from behind, on sand, at 140km/h plus.
Not surprisingly the other Toby, Wheels magazine’s own Toby Hagon - who completed his slightly less onerous task of finishing the Finke in a virtually stock Mazda BT-50, finishing second in his class - reported that the driver’s briefing on Sunday morning, before the return leg, featured a very specific warning.
“I couldn’t understand it at the time, because I hadn’t heard what Price had been doing, but it got a few laughs when they said, ‘We’d just like to remind you that, if you’re trying to overtake someone, you’re really not allowed to just bump them. At all,’” Hagon said.
The winner of the King of the Desert title for trucks, who must have been beyond shocked to have the blistering rookie breathing down his neck, was Glenn Owen (with co-driver Mathew Ryan), who completed the 452km in just 3:37.02, to hand four wheels yet another win over two in the traditional Finke rivalry.
It was the first win for Owen, whose best finish had been second in his previous six attempts, and he said the conditions this year were the toughest he’d ever seen.
The rough state of the course wasn’t enough to keep Toby Price from recoding a 3:45.40, with an engine that was starting to give up towards the end.
“Yeah, I’ve gone faster in the truck than on the bike, I didn’t expect that, I think I might need to have a look at what I’m doing on the bike,” Price tut-tutted himself.
Asked to explain what he’d just seen Price achieve in a truck at his first attempt, Owen seemed slightly in awe.
“I don’t know, it’s incredible, I guess he really knows this course, he knows that road like the back of his hand, but he also just commits himself entirely to every corner, he’s just attacked it. Plus he’s fearless, just completely fearless,” he said.
Spectators from all over the course - more than 20,000 of whom line the road to Finke over the weekend, camping in a collegial spirit near every challenging jump and bump - were speaking in awe of the way that Price attacked the road this year, with more speed and aggression than anyone else, on two wheels or four.
This guy is the real deal, as humble and friendly as the come in person and surely among the most talented motor sport performers this country has ever produced.
Check out this helmet-cam video (above) for just a tiny taste of what the boy can do.
All hail Toby Price, the Iron Man of Finke.
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