Many of you will be aware that the Birdsville Roadhouse is associated with the Krakka Koldee off-road racing team. Barnes’y and Sam are working hard to get their new Nissan 350z-powered pro-lite buggy ready for the Finke Desert Race in June.
If you’re not familiar with the world of off-road racing, it’s a thrilling sport that combines the best of motorsport and rally with four-wheel-drive terrain. For many four-wheel-drive enthusiasts that visit Birdsville, seeing the buggies in the workshop is a source of fascination. They’re mean-looking, powerful machines that can conquer almost any type of track.
The Finke Desert Race, a two-day event where buggies (and motorbikes) race from Alice Springs to the small township of Finke, is the most renowned off-road race in Australia. It joins the ranks of Mexico’s Baja 1000 as one of the world’s most famous off-road races.
Competitors can race a number of different types of buggies ranging from two-seater ‘sportsman’ buggies with up to 1300cc motors to ‘pro’ buggies with up to 6000cc motors to ‘trophy trucks‘ with up to 6000cc motors. Most buggies are built with their engines in the back of the vehicle, but trophy trucks have the engine in the front. There is also a separate class for standard four-wheel-drives.
Off-road racing became prominent in Australia in the late 60s. ‘Buggy Clubs’, or off-road racing clubs, sprung up around the country with increasing amounts of people building buggies or adapting Volkwagen Beetles to suit driving on sand and rough tracks. In the late 70s, Barnes’y bought his first buggy for $50 and joined the Millicent Sand Buggy Club. Since then, he has upgraded through five buggies, and introduced his son, Sam, to the sport.
Sam began navigating for Barnes’y in 2004 at the Sunraysia 500 in Mildura. Together, and with Bronwynne for support, they’ve travelled to compete in many races around the country. With Barnes’y at the wheel and Sam in the navigators’ seat, they won their class at the Finke Desert Race twice. When Sam started driving, in 2007, he successfully completed many races, culminating in winning his class at the 2009 Finke Desert Race.
Although off-road racing buggies were originally derived from Volkswagen Beetles, a lot has changed over the four decades since the sport’s inception in Australia. Buggies have become bigger, tougher and a hell of a lot heavier. Sam says that this has made both positive and negative impacts on the sport. When once it was possible for a DIY buggy builder or mechanic to participate in the sport with some success, it’s now too expensive for the every-day person to race competitively. However, for the spectators, bigger, tougher buggies means more spectacular jumps, drifts and stunts in races.
The Confederation of Australian Motor Sport supports the Australian Off-road Championship, which began in 1981. It’s comprised of four or five races each year and the winners are calculated on a points-based system over the year. Last years’ overall winner was Dave Fellows, of Peter Kittle Motorsports. But, each class of buggies also has their own winner. Barnes’y and Sam were the ‘sportsman’ class winners numerous times before upgrading to the ‘pro-lite’ class in which they’re yet to race.
After replacing the engine in their new pro-lite buggy, Barnes’y and Sam couldn’t get it running smoothly again. When driving, the buggy was misfiring at 6300-6750 revs. It was a mystery problem that couldn’t be googled. They tried every possible mechanical solution including replacing sensors, looking for fuel problems, upgrading to shielded wires, testing the exhaust gas breakdown and changing Motec computer programs, all to no avail.
The buggy is currently being rewired by a specialist in Brisbane and we should be hearing more news about it shortly. Hopefully, the wiring will have fixed the mystery problem and Sam can take it for a few runs near Birdsville to get a feel for the driver’s seat before heading off to Finke in June. Wish him luck!
Both Barnes’y and Sam would like to thank their sponsors; Jaycar Electronics, Phillip’s Foote Restaurant, Birdsville Roadhouse, Teagle Excavations, Millicent Tyre Power and the Outback Loop, for their generous support and patience while developing the new buggy.
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