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PROFILE SMITH BROS

J a n u a r y 2 0 1 3 w i l l s e e To d d S m i t h f r o n t u p t o t h e D a k a r R a l l y, t w o y e a r s a f t e r h i s b r o t h e r, Jacob, rode the event. I t ’s t h e n e x t s t e p i n t h i s f a m i l y ’s obsession with t h e w o r l d ’s most gruelling endurance r a l l y.

X M e n T h e

PETER WHITAKER

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iKAPTURE IMAGES, Mike Chmiel/SEVENPOINT DESIGN, justin hunt

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PROFILE SMITH BROS

Clockwise from top: Jacob puts Todd in an arm lock for ‘stealing’ his Dakar ride. The Safari-winning bike in a rare static moment. Glenn Hoffmann and his boys: arguably the world’s most successful desertracing team.

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ver since the Oz Safari relocated to the wilds of Western Australia, it’s been dominated by the GHR Honda Team. When Ben Grabham decamped for rivals KTM, Todd and Jacob Smith continued the team’s ascendency. In fact, other than a disaster during a routine service when riding for Yamaha in 2008 – for which the responsible mechanic now lies in a shallow grave just north of Meekatharra Showgrounds – there has been at least one Smith sibling on the Safari podium every year. Todd was originally selected for Ross Mitchell’s Yamaha Safari Team in ’07. However, a work experience trip harvesting in the USA bequeathed the position to brother, Jacob. His Sam Lawssponsored WR450F kept Grabham’s CRF450X honest all the way to Perth; something more than Jake’s international teammates Casey McCoy and Jonah Street managed. Both Smith brothers turned up to represent Sam Laws in 2008, but the aforementioned disaster put them to the back of the pack from where it was impossible to fully recover. Yet both managed to climb back into the top 20. They then took the first two places in the 2009 Safari, with Jacob leading on the CRF450X, repeated the result in 2011 and looked set to do so for the third time earlier this year ... until Todd suffered a rare engine failure, allowing Jacob to take a relatively easy win ahead of GHR teammate, Warren Strange. Three wins and four podiums in seven years are surely the stamp of professional riders, yet both the Smith boys have to hold down proper jobs outside racing; Todd as a

welder for the family manufacturing concern and Jacob as an Essential Energy line technician. For them, like the rest of us civilians, life goes on and by the time you read this, Todd will have tied the knot with long-time girlfriend, Amy. And that’s something that will tie him down far longer than the four-year TAFE course recently completed by Jake. Despite their record in the Safari, it appears that neither Todd nor Jake were on the radar when Honda selected the team for the new Honda CRF International Rally Program. They both realise that whilst there’s fame and fortune at the very top of cross-country rallying – typified by the Dakar – what little sponsorship there is doesn’t stretch much beyond the very tall poppies. In Australia, the dollars are spread even thinner with only Ben Grabham scratching a living from the sport. However, both lads are firmly convinced that success is not only possible, but probable. Jacob rode the Dakar for Glenn

Hoffmann Racing (GHR) in 2011 (see feature in Transmoto #8) and the original plans to back up this year were scuttled by a lack of coin. Now it’s Todd’s turn and Jake is torn between not being able to capitalise on his experience and being pumped about the opportunity for his bro. It seems a good point in our meeting to ask Todd about Jacob’s advice. “Yeah I’ve been listening to him for near on two years, studying his maps to learn all the descriptions and abbreviations. Plus the simple things such as taking altitude pills to avoid blacking out like Mark Davidson did. Jake didn’t even have any wind protection gear to cross the Andes and near froze his arse off. And to take breakfast in the truck so I don’t waste an hour lining up for a croissant and some reheated pasta. I reckon a lot of the struggle Jake had was with the food, he must have rode malnourished, so I’m definitely taking breakfast in the truck.” Built like the proverbial steak

“Three wins and four podiums in seven years are surely the stamp of professional riders, yet both the Smith boys have to hold down proper jobs outside racing.”

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PROFILE SMITH BROS

Clockwise from left: He ain’t heavy... A family that wheelstands together, stays together. Looks remote, but this is Harbour-Bridge-atrush-hour gridlocked compared to what the Dakar offers.

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and eggs man, Jake agrees. “I ate dry pasta for 14 days, with stinking yoghurt, tiny pieces of cheese and ham. You ain’t gonna race on that. French breakfast is ridiculous. Nothing’s easy at the Dakar. Until you see it and learn it, the pressure to get a result whilst learning the GPS navigation is immense. In a foreign country you’re never quite in your comfort zone. But I reckon Todd will do a great job out there.” I suggest to Jacob that Todd’s experience will put them on equal footing to be the first brothers to one-two the Dakar. “Yeah, but how much pressure’s on Todd to get a result so we can go back? Hoffmann’s spent a lot of money, and spending even more this time, but things can go wrong and he may not be able to afford it again.” Over the past few years, along with Ben Grabham, Matt Fish and Rod Faggotter, the two Smith siblings have become part of an exclusive band of competitors as proficient at cross-country navigation as on arrowed enduros. And now they’re all competing for a foothold on the international stage where Cyril Despres and Marc Coma seem to have no peers. Neither of the two Eurostars managed their first Dakar victory before their 30th birthdays, a fact not lost on the Smiths. Todd, at 27, and yet to roll a wheel in anger in the legendary event, remains contemplative about this point, however 23-year-old Jake is pumped. “To be honest, I want to do it now. Now that Todd’s got this year’s Dakar gig with GHR, everyone’s saying to me ‘time’s on your side, mate’ but by the time I’m Coma’s age (36), I want to have 10 Dakars under my belt. I don’t want to be putting my life on the line when I’m 36. Then, maybe I’ll just do a few club days. On the other hand, Cyril could still be winning when he’s 40 (he’s currently 38). Looking at it that way, I’ve got 17 years in me.” That’s on top of the near 18 years of experience both brothers already have behind their well-worn kidney belts – from 50cc PeeWees through to premier-class MX, Yellow Mountain and their ‘home event,’ the Condo 750. And it’s that event which strikes a chord with Jacob in particular. “I’ve watched the 750 ever since

“But when we go to Finke to prerun the course and I have to take leave without pay, it sucks. You’re seen as a factory rider, but you’re actually losing pay just like every other punter.” I can remember, with Bruce Broad and the local boys taking on the Safari champions such as Steve Riley, John Hederics and Glenn Hoffmann on their XR600s; but it never ever crossed my mind I’d be doing that kind of racing. It’s funny how it all ends up. You couldn’t … well, I guess you could pay me … but I don’t know how they raced those heavy bikes back then. I know they were stable, but to be able to handle them at the speeds we’re doing now would be virtually impossible.” We all agree that the bikes have improved vastly since the last drumbraked, air-cooled behemoth was retired at the end of the ’90s; and that today’s competitor is considerably more capable than in an era when hydration was believed to be a flower arrangement. But time to practice is never easy, explains Todd the elder. “My old man’s flexible with holidays, but when

I’m there, I’ve gotta work. I put in a lot of unpaid overtime – a couple of hours here, a day there – so it all works out in the long run.” By being employed by a large company, it’s very different for Jake. “I get the usual four weeks annual leave and Essential Energy are very good to me, I’ve just got to juggle my rostered days off. But when we go to Finke to pre-run the course and I have to take leave without pay, it sucks. You’re seen as a factory rider, but you’re actually losing pay just like every other punter.” Nonetheless, Jake manages a little more practice time than Todd and is there whenever Todd gets the opportunity for time out on the MX track they’ve built in the backblocks of Condobolin. The GHR budget doesn’t stretch to long-term use (or abuse) of their actual race bikes, so their regular mounts – both CRF450Xes – receive a pounding

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PROFILE SMITH BROS

“I ate dry pasta for 14 days, with stinking yoghurt and tiny pieces of cheese and ham. You ain’t gonna race on that. French breakfast is ridiculous. Nothing’s easy at the Dak ar.” whenever possible. “Three to four times a year, we’ll get together with a group of mates and go for a day or a weekend ride, but most of the time I’m just cutting motos on my own. It can get repetitive and tiring,” explains Jacob. “I’ve got the mentality that you’ve got to earn your results, but this year, more than any other year, I rode myself into the ground. The same track, the same terrain, the same everything. I started to lose drive so I swapped to more cycling and gym work.” Inevitably, the conversation twists back to the Dakar – and

how to get to the startline from way Downunder. This year, Matt Fish took on the Abu Dubai Desert Challenge before joining the Husqvarna team in Morocco and, in those two events, has probably done more to lift Australia’s profile in the Moto division than any other rider. No other Aussie is better credentialed than Ben Grabham, who has won every major rally on the national calendar at least twice, and is Dakar-bound for the first time. True blue, Rod Faggotter, will also be there under the Yamaha Team France banner. Of the others, Troy O’Connor’s ‘win it or bin it’

attitude could also prove a standout performance. All will have made the Peruvian start point by foregoing some sort of income and, almost invariably, proffering some form of cash; making it apparent that Todd is on a pretty good wicket for a Dakar rookie. Though Despres and Coma, both with talented personal waterboys and highly experienced team support, still dominate, the restriction to a 450cc capacity has opened KTM up to serious challengers. And, thanks largely to Jacob, the GHR team learnt a lot from their 2011 foray. But challengers from Australia

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PROFILE SMITH BROS

JaCOB Smith On the Record

2004/05 ● 2nd

Junior National MX, Supercross and Stadium MX Champion

2007 ● 1st

Condo 750 Australasian Safari ● 2nd Yellow Mountain ● NSW Stadium MX Champion ● 2nd

2008 ● 4th

E1 A4DE

2009 ● 1st

Australasian Safari

2010 ● 1st

Yellow Mountain 750 ● 4th Finke ● 3rd Condo

2011 2nd Australasian Safari 1st Yellow Mountain ● 32nd Dakar Rally ● ●

2012

1st Australasian Safari Yellow Mountain ● 3rd Condo 750 ●

● 2nd

todd Smith On the Record

face the same tyranny of distance as ever before and it’s only reasonable to ask the boys if they’d consider basing themselves overseas. This is possibly the wrong time to ask Todd, a mere fortnight before his nuptials, though he is certain that more time on an actual race bike would improve both his and Jacob’s skills considerably. “I’d have to be paid a lot of money not to live here in Australia. To move away from my family just isn’t necessary. From what we’ve learnt, all those overseas events are quite different and each is its own race; Morocco, Tunisia, Brazil and Sardinia each have different roadbook set-ups to the Dakar. Sure they share the same principles, but they’re different. And they’re not the Dakar.” “You don’t need to do anything bar Dakar,” offers Jake. “If you had the budget to fly to

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Argentina or Peru and test the bike and conditions, that would be the only way to learn. You’d need the right team behind you, but within five years, you’d score a win. It may sound far-fetched, but it’s possible. I’ve got no doubt that this year, if everything falls into place for Todd, there’s every reason why a top-10 is likely and a top-five is possible. Then you’ve got to keep going over to get experience to read the big dunes, learn to know what’s likely over the next crest, understand the colours of soft sand and also the colours of even softer sand. And that all takes training and lots of time.” I make the point that’s exactly the advantage the Europeans enjoy. Flying from France, Portugal or Spain down to the big dunes at Erg Chebbi in Morocco – a perennial in the old Paris-Dakar Rallies and currently the base for the Oilibya Rally recently ridden by Matt Fish

– is about the same distance as flying from Condobolin to Sydney. However, Jacob remains just as adamant as Todd that a team could race the Dakar, or the world FIM Championship, based in Australia. But for now, all eyes are on South America, where the top Aussies have found slots in major factory teams. Grabbo for KTM, Fishy for Husky and Rod for Yamaha. Unfortunately, no Aussies found their way onto the new Honda Rally Team, but it’s a good thing that HRC Honda is heading for Dakar. With the money they’re tipping in, they could be there for many years to come. “Hopefully that will benefit both of us” Jacob enthuses. “What would be great is to see an Australian rider on an Aussie-built CRF450X beat the team riders on HRC-built CRF Rally bikes. That would make people sit up and take notice of what we can do here.”

2003/4/5 ●

1st Yellow Mountain NSW MX Champion

● 1st

2008

2nd Condo 750

2009

2nd Australasian Safari 1st Condo 750 ● 1st Gascoyne Dash ● ●

2010

2nd Australasian Safari 2nd Condo 750 ● 2nd Finke ● ●

2011

1st Australasian Safari Yellow Mountain ● 4th Finke ●

● 2nd

2012

1st Yellow Mountain Condo 750 ● 3rd Finke

● 1st


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