“Who dares wins”, is a motto that Scott Britnell has lived by for much of his professional life.
The strength of that conviction was put to the test recently when the former special forces soldier took on the world’s toughest off-road motorbike endurance event: Dakar 18.
And just to make the 9500-kilometre event more challenging, this Omni Executive’s Head Trainer entered himself into its most demanding category, the “Marathon” class.
Competitors are required to navigate and sustain themselves and service and repair their bikes unsupported through some of the toughest terrain South America has to offer over 14 days.
The marathon class comprised 27 riders who are isolated from the rest of the competition. At the end of 12-16 hours of daily riding, they then complete their own servicing, maintenance, mechanical repairs and preparation for the next day, all without assistance.
But not just anybody can sign up and hope to take part in this classic endurance feat that shifted continents in recent years from its Paris-Dakar (Senegal) origins due to security concerns.
Scott had to prove he had the right stuff before being admitted to Dakar and he completed two punishing desert endurance rides in Abu Dhabi and Qatar.
“The first was pretty much sand dunes and the second, very, very rocky terrain – everything got shaken up on that one including me,” he said.
Scott even managed to fit in a double motor bike crossing of Australia in seven days to establish a new national record.
The second challenge was a financial one that demanded about $100,000 just to compete, including the purchase and preparation of a capable bike – a KTM 450RR – and other aspects of logistics and planning.
“I raised a fair bit myself and the balance came from a variety of sponsors and a public fundraising page,” he said.
“I was grateful for the support and determined to finish the Dakar course for those who supported me.”
The KTR 450RR bike is especially designed for endurance races and only 40 are produced each year and need to be ordered more than 12 months in advance.
The race began in Lima, Peru, with 180 riders across all classes including the 27 in the marathon category.
“We spent about six days in Peru at pretty much sea level, but the terrain began to climb as we entered Bolivia and it eventually hit a high point of around 4500 metres,” he said.
High altitude was demanding on bike and rider with thin oxygen reducing the machine’s engine capacity by a good 30 per cent-40 per cent, making greater demands on concentration.
Scott said he quite frequently passed wrecked bikes or others that had simply been abandoned due to breakdown (for later recovery).
“Riding a bike through all kinds of terrain is equal parts concentration and requires the cultivation of a certain mindset,” he said.
“The tempo of the race forces you into a situation of compounding effects: you start the next day more tired, more worn and more bruised than the one before. You struggle to upload enough fluid and calories to reach the next bivouac before sunset.”
After four days in Bolivia, the racers entered Argentina and spent a further five days pushing toward the finish line in Cordoba where Scott was among the 16 marathon classers out of 27 who earned the coveted status of “finisher”.
Scott said he had been seeking an experience that would really test him to his limits.
“The founders of the Dakar Rally promised ‘Challenge Through Adversity’ 40 years ago. That’s what I signed up for and Dakar didn’t let me down,” he said.
“It was an amazing experience and could only happen in a place like South America. We were really welcomed at both an official and a community level,” he said.
“Many of the local traffic rules were relaxed for racers because of the overall prestige the Dakar brought to the countries involved. And the race route was lined with locals cheering us on like they do on the Tour de France. We couldn’t have been made to feel more welcome.”
Scott acknowledged his sponsors and all those who contributed to his fundraising.
“This would have remained a dream, if it hadn’t been for the support of everyone who contributed their time, professional skills, product and/or hard-earned cash,” he said.
“None of them did it for a return on investment or a guarantee of a result. I sincerely thank them supporting one man’s desire to take on the world’s toughest off-road endurance motor sport event.
“I was determined to finish to repay the faith,” Scott said.
The adventurer is now back home with family, recharging his batteries and quietly contemplating the nature of his next challenge.
“Nothing definite yet, but I’m keen to have another crack at Mongolia at some point. That’s an amazing place,” he said.
Published 24 October 2017