Penrite Honda Racing’s Mark Grove took to the podium in the Hattah Desert Race in Mildura over the weekend. The father of four from Bacchus Marsh, Victoria powered his Honda CRF250R to 2nd in class and 15th outright.
“I made it hard on myself by qualifying 35th; I had to make up a lot of time on my rivals. I pushed hard to make up for that and passed 20 riders to get 2nd. I should have qualified better but these things happen and overall I am happy to come away with a podium,” said Grove.
Caleb Auricht also rode a very convincing race, passing over 30 riders on his way to 4th in the 250 class.
“I made a mess of qualifying and had to go full throttle from the beginning, it was basically a sprint race from the moment we took off. I really wanted a podium finish so it’s unfortunate that I fell short. I will learn from it and next year I will ensure my qualifying performance sets me up for that podium finish I so badly wanted this year.” Said Auricht.
The teams 450 riders had their own battles respectively throughout the race. Jacob Smith made gains early as he moved up to third in class but trying track conditions saw him finish 5th in class (10th outright)
“I went hard early and worked my way through the pack, but on the last lap I lost third position and had to settle for 5th. It is difficult to accept as I felt I had a decent pace, especially for the first three and a half hours. The crash I sustained in prologue definitely hurt me towards the end of the four-hour race and I realised as the track broke down we needed a stiffer set up. Overall I am happy with the speed we had, we just need to work on a few things for next year,” said Smith.
The teams other 450 rider, Callum Norton faced the biggest comeback of his life after failing to start the race with the rest of the riders as he experienced a technical glitch off the line. The 17 year old started the race from last in the pits as his crew came together to solve and fix the electrical issue.
“The team was calm and calculated in evaluating what was wrong, and fixing it so we could get going, I lost over 10 minutes and started last,” said Norton.
The Hattah desert race caps event entries to 500 so Norton raced past more than 400 riders and got within 13 minutes of the eventual winner to finish 9th.
“There were moments I was scared as I was jumping over and past people on every section of the track. On one hand it was fun racing everyone and challenging myself and on another I would have preferred to race less defensively, starting in a better position to come away with the outright win,” said Norton.
The team acknowledges this extraordinary feat, an unbelievable effort. The record books will state he finished 4th in class and 9th outright, however the spectators and fellow riders know that his speed against bigger capacity bikes and seasoned veterans coupled with his determination was outstanding to watch and worthy of applause, especially for a 17 years old.
“I really wanted to win; I focused everything on this event. I have spent months in Mildura training and preparing. I understand things can happen that are out of your control so I need to take the positives from the weekend and be proud of what I achieved. I will be back next year to give it my all.’ Norton said.
“Congratulations to all of the riders who finished and to the winners and podium placegetters. It’s the toughest race I have raced in but also the most fun I have had pushing myself,” Norton finished.
Image credit: Kane O’Rourke
#364 – Mark Grove
#315 – Caleb Auricht
#25 – Jake Smith
#4 – Callum Norton