Each year during the Queen’s Birthday long weekend, the red centre comes alive with the sounds of speed and in the middle of the giant plume of dust will be Mount Gambier rider Kent Collins (pictured), who will take on the brutal Tatts Finke Desert Race.
Across two demanding days of racing, the event is the ultimate test of man and machine as hundreds of bikes, cars, buggies and quads cross varied terrain between Alice Springs and the small Apultula (Finke) community.
The race has become a must-watch event on the Northern Territory sporting calendar and brings in worldwide recognition including Australia’s Dakar Rally winner Toby Price.
After the 2020 edition was cancelled due to COVID-19, almost 800 competitors are geared up and eager to hit the dirt again.
Collins is already in the NT preparing for the 440km torture test and getting an early glimpse of the track on his KTM bike.
He said he would need as much time as possible, believing 2021 could be the fastest ever with bikes averaging well over 100kph in unforgiving conditions.
“After all of the track work they have done it will be a fast year this year,” Collins said.
“I almost think it will be the quickest year the bikes do it because they track is so flat and fast.” Collins is not the only Mount Gambier rider taking part in the mega race with Zac Watson, Tony Hardman and Alistair Morgan suiting up plus Millicent’s Ned Skeer.
But Collins has an enormous amount of personal ambition to perform after experiencing the highs and lows in previous races.
He debuted in 2013 and used his first three experiences of the race gaining knowledge of the tough terrain before finishing 12th in 2016.
The breakthrough result inspired Collins to a remarkable run of form in 2017 and 18, where his “preparation paid off” to score two consecutive fourth place outright finishes.
But hoping to make it a hat-trick of top-five finishes at the gruelling event, the Finke Desert bit back hard in 2019.
“I was halfway back on the run home and I am still not sure what I hit, I think it was a squarish hole or rock and I did not have time to catch it,” Collins said.
“I fell off and had a high-speed crash breaking my collarbone and wrist.
“The process of getting fixed up took a lot longer than I thought it would and still had issues with my wrist at the start of 2020.
“So having the year off was actually good because it gave me enough time to recover back to 100% fitness.” Just to be fighting fit for the race, Collins has poured his heart and soul into the last six months, riding every weekend and completing intense weekly fitness sessions with Rob Povey.
Collins said he needed to be mentally and physically sharp to overcome the changing conditions across the two days of racing.
“It is hard physically, but we are always ready at this time of the year, so fitness is not normally an issue, but you need to endure a lot of seat time on the bike,” he said.
“The track work they have done has disturbed the sand, so it will be even more dusty than usual, which will be an added factor.” Riders need to be switched on from the moment the green flag drops with the prologue opening proceedings.
The fastest prologue riders enjoy the advantage of starting first in the main race as the top 20 leave in pairs 30 seconds apart before larger groups are left to fight for position with almost no visibility.
On the opening day, competitors drive into the heat of the desert on a 220km trip to Finke before turning around and charging back to Alice Springs on the Sunday.
Collins will not be taking on the challenge alone, with support from KTM, Mototech, Gambier Earth Movers, Russel Industries, GTR Suspension, Exact Align, JL Millard Contracting and friends and family.
He said the race was difficult on man and machine and the only goal is to greet the chequered flag.
“There are so many factors I do not think you can put an expectation on yourself,” Collins said.
“There is so much luck like trying to prevent flat tyres or mechanical things that never normally break.
“If you can just finish, getting there in one piece and doing the best you can is a win.”