The West

Safari a Dakar prelude
Tamsin Jones. Supplied picture

"It was a torturous, horrendous, petrifying nightmare," recalled Australasian Safari entrant Tamsin Jones, the youngest British woman to complete the notorious Dakar Rally.

Many of her fellow combatants have pitted themselves against the villainous "rally-raid", recognised as the pinnacle of such endurance events and, since terror threats in Mauritania saw its cancellation in 2008, now raced in South America.

Frenchman Thierry Sabrie founded that race in 1979 after he got lost in the Senegal Desert and thought it would be a good place to drive good drivers crazy.

He calls it "a challenge for those who go, a dream for those who stay behind".

There is no doubt that if you've competed at Dakar, legendary status looms large.

"It's such an extremely long rally, designed to wear you down so you no longer want to live and definitely don't want to see a motorbike ever again," says Jones, who is riding a Suzuki S in WA.

"By the time you even get to South America you've probably put in a year's work, spent all your savings, taken out a loan, nearly split up with your partner and nearly given your parents a heart attack.

"Don't get me wrong, I feel extremely fortunate to have had the opportunity to take on Dakar, but it takes so much more than you think to even get to the start line."

Perhaps her childhood has something to do with her resilience.

"I was a true tomboy - I could spit the furthest, swing the highest and hold on to the rottweiler we used to take for a walk the longest," Jones said.

"Once it pulled me across the road on my back, but I wouldn't let go. I've always been determined and stubborn, and will never give up."

The well-credentialed Jones is one of two women in Australasian Safari 2012 and is in Perth with partner Craig Bounds, the first Welshman to finish that gruesome rally-raid in 2009.

Bounds has done seven six-day international enduro rallies, represented the UK in the world trials series and, like many of the entrants, is treating this as crucial to his preparation for Dakar 2013.

The other woman in the WA rally is Reubecca Sheldrick, co-driver for Tasmanian company director Les Walkden, at 69 the oldest competitor in the race.

It's the first time he's entered, although he made his motorsport debut in a mountain circuit rally in a VW Beetle 48 years ago.

He just pips 67-year-old company director Reg Owen, a longtime contender from Warnambool, Victoria.

Kalamunda's Steve McKie, 57, who works in education and training, is the oldest bike entrant and lined up for his first Safari last year.

Competing for the second time is Husaberg FE450 rider Manuel Lucchese of Italy, a professional rally racer and moto blogger who has been competing in the World Cross Country rallies and raced in Dakar 2012.

He has a big following in the off-road racing scene at home and, at 24, joins GRH Honda rider Jake Smith as the youngest biker in the WA race.

Jake's brother Todd, the 2011 Safari winner, is back to defend his title coming off a strong run where he placed third in the NT's Finke Desert Classic and won the popular Condo 750, the cross- country rally held in central NSW.

South Australian David Schwarz, riding a Husaberg, is one of the event's most experienced competitors and has an unequalled record of nine top- 10 finishes. He has competed in Dakar three times.

He's either a glutton for punishment or he's a legend.

There is no doubt that if you've competed at Dakar, legendary status looms large.

The West Australian

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