With less than one week remaining until the 2015 Australian 4-Day Enduro, Motorcycling Australia’s media guru, Ben Rowles, took the opportunity to speak with former A4DE champ and current KTM Off-Road Racing Team Manager, Ben Grabham, to hear about his 4-Day double in 2002 and 2003, as well as dual-A4DE Champion Toby Price, and get a feel for what they are expecting from the 2015 outing in Van Diemen’s Land.
Words: Ben Rowles
Rowles: When was your first A4DE?
Grabham: My first Four Day was in ’98, which was at Oberon in New South Wales. I won the 250cc four-stroke class.
What are some of your favourite winning memories?
2002 was at Harvey in Western Australia, and 2003 was at Millicent in South Australia. I think I was 19 when I won my first Outright and obviously 20 when I won my second one in 2003. I don’t really have fresh memories of those wins. Obviously, I started pretty young – I was only 16 when I did the first one in Oberon, so I had a bit of experience in them. I had won my class nearly every year leading into 2002 and was always second to either Shane Watts or Stefan Merriman at the time, and I think that was the first year that neither of them were there, so I guess there was a little bit of pressure after getting second to them all those years. But it was just one of those things that was huge to me at the time and obviously it was good to win an event like that Outright.
What makes the A4DE such a special and unique event?
I think it’s just because it’s our equivalent to the Six Days really – it’s just a little bit of a smaller event in Australia. Obviously when I was younger, it was pretty special to be in the New South Wales state team, and back then it was a bit different to me than what it is now. The boys these days have national events in which they see each other all year, but back then it was a race where all the states’ off-road and motocross riders would get together for our big one-off championship race.
Do you feel riders still appreciate that ‘state versus state’ competition with the trophy teams, or has it lost its relevance somewhat?
I think it has lost a little bit of its rivalry. There’s a little bit of a rivalry there, but not like it was when I first turned Senior and there was a lot of strong state teams that didn’t get to race each other all the time, so it did mean a lot more. Now, to me, they race each other every second week, so I think they are a bit more used to it I think.
How do you rate your A4DE titles in the list of your achievements?
It’s up there. Whenever someone asks me what I’ve won and raced over my career, it is certainly one of the ones that gets mentioned. It’s good that Outright 4-Day champions are getting recognised now, because I think it is something that the 4-Day has always lacked with a bit of history on the event. With Finke and the like, you go up every year and the program has the past winners, the bikes they were on, their times and everything. It’s huge to win an Outright A4DE, but it hasn’t seemed to get enough acknowledgement over the years. It’s funny; for the first one I won in ’02 we knew I won on times, but there was actually no talk of winning Outright and no trophy, but the following year there was a big fuss about Outright and I got an Outright trophy and everything, so it was a bit random, but that’s the way it was.
You’ve made the transition now from rider to Team Manager for the KTM Off-Road Racing Team. How’s that? Do you need to do a lot?
With our guys (KTM Off-Road Racing Team), they’ve got enough experience as it is. You’ve got Toby Price who is a two-time winner and obviously Matthew Phillips does World Enduro rounds and Six Days. In fact, all of our riders have done a Six Days at least once now. There’s not a hell of a lot that I tell them, it’s just more if I can see they are doing something wrong over the course of the day, I can look in and tell them that. As a Team Manager though, it’s more about making sure everything that they need is there to get the best result. That’s where I use my experience and worry about every little detail to do with weather and what the tracks will be like, and they don’t even need to worry about it because the information is there.
The event is obviously heading to Tasmania for the first time. What are you expecting from the event down there?
I think it’s good. As much as it is a little bit annoying for us to feel like you’re going overseas with packing up the truck to put it on the boat and send it over, I’m looking forward to it because I’ve never been to Tasmania. It sounds like it is going to be old school and technical, which I think A4DEs have been lacking for a few years now. Since I first started, I think it’s got easier and easier every year, so I think it will be really good. It also depends on how the weather gets; if it’s fine weather it will be a good race, and if it is wet it will be quite challenging for the riders, but it will be good to see a different part of the country.
Thanks Grabbo, we really appreciate your time!
Rowles: The achievements added to your resume have been pretty impressive over the last two years, but looking back to your A4DE wins in 2010 and 2011 what are some of your recollections of those particular wins?
Price: The first one was in Portland, and the second one was up in Mackay. The first one was very special and cool to win; my first attempt that I had was in 2009 and I finished second, so to come away with a win on the second attempt in 2010 was great.
The second one was pretty special as well with it being two-in-a-row up in Mackay, which was a good event at a pretty awesome location. It’s been a while since I’ve won a Four Day so it would be nice to try for one more before I finish up my enduro style of riding and racing.
Last year the A4DE was probably the only thing in the Australian Off-Road scene that you didn’t take out – with this year possibly being your last A4DE for some time, how determined are you to sign off on what has also been a remarkable 2015 with a third Four Day outright win?
That would be the dream come true. The year has been really good with Dakar, the Off-Road (Australian Off-Road Championship), Finke and Hattah Desert Races, so we’re trying to chase this last one to top it off to be a great year. We’ll be pushing hard for it, but there is a lot of guys coming back for it like Daniel Milner, who is a three-time winner.
It’s shaping up as a strong field again this year with a number of stars coming back from overseas and then obviously the home grown talent back home. Other than Milner who you mentioned, who else do you see will be your biggest challengers?
Other guys here in Australia like Chris Hollis are on fire at the moment, as well as Josh Green and Daniel Sanders with his good result in the Six Day. There’s also the American Russell Bobbitt who will be up there, so it will be good and we’re looking forward to battling with all them guys and seeing how it goes.
What makes the A4DE such a special and unique event?
There’s no other event like it in Australia, that’s one of the good points about it. One of the things about the Four Day is that I don’t think there is any event run like it in the country that can prepare all our young guys coming through to go overseas and do a Six Day, so that’s the best part about it. It’s good practice and even though it’s been on this year already, it’s a good, fun event that’s good to be around everyone.
A4DE is heading to Tasmania for the first time, what are you expecting from the event down there?
It’s the very first time for me down there all together, so I’m not really sure what to expect. I’m thinking it will be a little bit dry, but you never know with the weather forecast down there because it can blow something in pretty quick.
I reckon it is going to be a tight and technical track, but until I get there and start walking some tests and get on top of things to see what we’re up against, it’s kind of hard to know.
You have been jetting all around the world with numerous racing commitments this year. After this year’s Four Day in Tassie, what will be next on the agenda for you?
I just landed back from Morocco this week. It’s been a busy schedule, but I get home for three days after the Four Day and then I’m back over to Spain for the final test with the Red Bull KTM Rally Team for a week and a half.
I’ll come back after that and do a couple of jobs here in Australia and then I’ll have another trip for a week in Dubai for some testing, then back to Spain again for more testing and then back home to get ready for Dakar in January.
It’s definitely a busy back end of the year for me and the jet lag is kicking in, but we’ll try our best.
Thanks for your time Toby!