Former works WRC driver Alister McRae returned to competition last month, swapping four wheels for two to ride a KTM 500 EXC on the Australasian Safari rally raid. The Scot, who now lives in Perth, Western Australia, finished the event fifth overall in the Moto category and as first Production-specification bike after a week, and 3200 kilometres, of arduous riding over a variety of terrain.
McRae is no stranger to off-road motorcycling - he began in motorsport riding trials and motocross at the age of 12, before turning his attention to rallying. However, he had been interested in competing on the Australasian Safari, one of the Asia-Pacific's most challenging off-road races and one of the rounds of the Dakar Challenge, for some time.
He was introduced to the Australian KTM importer by event director Justin Hunt, whom Alister knew from his involvement with Australia's WRC rally. The result was a deal with KTM to ride the 2014 model of the 500EXC on the Safari, in the Production category.
In preparation for the event, McRae undertook a significant training program, including physical fitness, riding and navigational skills and familiarisation with the bike, in case of problems en-route
The first day consisted of three stages and Alister settled in well to the task ahead, enjoying the riding while developing his navigational skills. Day two also consisted of three stages and although he was riding well, he lost time when he stopped to assist a fellow competitor who was suffering mechanical problems, eventually towing him to the end of the stage. The third day saw Alister climb to sixth while day four saw him fully on top of the navigation techniques, gaining two more positions to rise to fourth.
The fifth day was cut short, following an accident involving another rider while day six saw him drop a place, as a result of lost time in the sand dunes that made up that day's route. The seventh and final day saw him reach the finish line at Geraldton, 450 km north of Perth, in fifth place. However, more importantly was his position as first production category bike home, a huge testament to the strength and reliability of the KTM 500 EXC.
“It's been an amazing week; excellent fun but also, incredibly challenging. I knew it would be but I wasn't sure just how much and I am delighted to not only reach the finish but also, to be the first Production specification bike home,” said McRae. “I would like to thank KTM, the boys in the Equiprent team, Justin and the organisers for making this adventure possible.
“I know what's involved in a major off-road event, having done the Dakar twice. But both were in a car and while they were tough, I wasn't having to navigate myself and I wasn't riding a motorcycle, which is far more mentally and physically exhausting than driving a rally car, that's for sure.
“It took me a couple of days to get my head around the navigation but once I'd got the hang of it, I really started to enjoy the event. The bike was fantastic - it literally came out of the showroom, had the long-range fuel tank and navigation equipment fitted and we were off. We changed the air filter and the oil every night and that was it - it ran perfectly throughout the event, which is amazing for a production bike.
“The atmosphere on the event was incredible, particularly in the bivouac. While everyone is in competition, they also look out for each other and there is a real sense of camaraderie. I am so happy to have been part of this year's event.”