Aviators finish gruelling Finke Desert Race

Three aviators from RAAF Base Tindal participated in the 48th Finke Desert Race last month.

CAPTIONCorporals Jacob Wilkinson, left, and Sam Harman at the 2024 Finke Desert Race. Story by Corporal John Blenkin.

‘Finke’ is a gruelling 230km ‘there and back’ motorcycle race contested over two days from Alice Springs to the remote community of Apatula.

For 75 Squadron avionics technician Corporal Sam Harman and 17 Squadron armament technician Corporal Joel Paxton, it was their second attempt at the renowned desert race after both successfully finished it last year.

For 75 Squadron aircraft technician Corporal Jacob Wilkinson, it was his debut.

“I really wanted to complete Finke at least once during this posting in the NT. It’s a real-bucket list item and a huge personal challenge,” Corporal Wilkinson said.

Corporal Paxton said the race was unlike anything else he had experienced.

CAPTIONCorporal Joel Paxton competes, for the second time, in the Finke Desert Race.

“I said I’d be ‘one and done’ after 2023, but the red dust really gets into your blood and keeps you coming back for more,” Corporal Paxton said.

In the prologue qualifying time trial, Corporal Harman qualified 147th, Corporal Paxton 214th and Corporal Wilkinson 253rd out of the initial 326 rider field.

After mixed fortunes in 2023, Corporal Harman rode a solid first leg to make it to Finke in under three hours, placing 173rd, and Corporal Wilkinson made up time to place 230th.

Corporal Paxton had a slightly more eventful first day with mechanical issues and possibly “dodgy fuel”.

“I spent some time stopped and thought my race was over, but I got moving again and nursed it into Finke where I could flush the tank,” he said.

The return leg to Alice Springs on the Monday is the same track but in reverse, with all three riders noting the challenging track conditions.

“The track was destroyed after the previous day of racing, plus the trophy trucks leave before us,” Corporal Harman said.

“It was a tremendous mental and physical grind to stay zoned in and keep the bike the right side up despite the fatigue.”

In three outstanding efforts, all three Tindal riders were able to ride a clean return leg and successfully complete the desert course within the required time limit.

Corporal Harman led the trio home in 167th place, Corporal Wilkinson in 232nd and Corporal Paxton in 245th out of 302 finishers.

“I was just trying to stay out of the rescue helicopter – we rode past it a few times picking up riders with various injuries,” Corporal Wilkinson said.

“I’m just so stoked to have finished Finke in my first attempt. The goal was just to get there and back; next year it’s for sheep stations.

“Massive thank you to everyone who helped get us there, from Young Veterans to our pit crews. Sharing this accomplishment with our mates and families means the world – I can’t wait to come back after my arms and legs are a bit less sore.”


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