The longest day
Tuesday, 1st May, 2012
By Darrin Manuel
Spending 24 hours continuously tackling harsh terrain on a dirt bike isn’t how most motorsport competitors would like to spend their time, but Chris Wellington is a different breed of racer.
The 41-year-old is gearing up to compete in the 2012 South Australian Reliability Trials, a series of races that often push both bike and rider beyond breaking point.
Most of the endurance events last around six hours and are held at various remote locations around SA across seven rounds of competition.
The most gruelling of all the stages is the Swann Insurance 24-hour Trial, which pits riders in an almost continual battle against the elements for a full day.
The tough nature of the race sees only half of the competitors make it to the finish line, with the remaining riders generally succumbing to fatigue or mechanical breakdown.
Despite the high attrition rate the event has grown in popularity in recent years, with riders from all across Australia and overseas signing up to test themselves against the Australian outback.
Wellington previously took part in the Reliability Trials between 1998 and 2002, but said he has never completed the 24-hour marathon.
Older, wiser and armed with a new bike and renewed determination, he said he was now ready to tackle the big event.
“I did four seasons of it when I was living in Adelaide and finished all the races except the 24-hour one. The longest I’ve lasted is 12 hours,” he said.
“The 24-hour races are hard, not just because you have to ride for 24 hours, but because of the weather and conditions.
“It’s the middle of winter in the Barossa. It’s freezing cold and usually wet and when you have 150 bikes the ground turns to slush pretty quick.
“And you’d think being a 24-hour race that the terrain would be easier than the others races, but it’s not.
“It can be harder than a lot of the technical sections. You get a lot of rocky hills and erosion creeks.
“But I think I’m riding better than I did back then and I have a better bike and the lighting on it is one hundred per cent better than in previous years.”
Wellington said the unique nature of the Reliability series had always had an allure for him, and he credited his son Jaxon’s enthusiasm in junior racing for reigniting his passion for the sport.
“Jaxon has been getting out and riding and that’s given me the inspiration to get riding again,” he said.
“And it’s a real one-off event. There’s no other event like it in Australia where you ride 12 hours in the day and 12 hours in the night.
“They have 24-hour events overseas but they have teams where you swap riders. In this you only stop for 45 minutes for a tea break, 30 minutes for breakfast, and when you refuel.
“I want to do well in the other races in the series but my main goal is to finish the 24-hour race, and I’ve given myself this year and next to do it.”
Wellington is well prepared for the challenge after working closely with Bolton’s Engineering and Rob Tumes to equip his bike with all the required gear including an array of lighting for the night stages.
The first round of the series is the Philip Haydon Reliability Trial, which will be held at Marrabel on Saturday.