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Rod Faggotter – Back from Dakar and as cheerful as ever

This entry is part 6 of 17 in the series Adventure Rider Issue #22

Yamaha Dakar competitor Rod is a very down-to-Earth sort of bloke, but his riding achievements are out of this world. You might be surprised at just how much this cheerful bike-shop owner has done.

Mustering sheep and cattle in Australia’s outback must be an exceptional school for off-roaders.

Not only does it teach riders to think and act fast, it makes them tough and innovative. Rod of Centretune Motorcycles in Longreach is a good example. The 2017 Dakar didn’t launch Rod into the spotlight. He’s been there, quietly achieving, for quite a while.

Rod feels desert racing in general suits the kind of riding he does around his home in central Queensland.

AdvR: How did you get into motorcycling to start with?
RF: I grew up on a property out here in central-western Queensland which my mum and my next-oldest brother still own. It’s a sheep and cattle property, so we grew up mustering with bikes from a young age, and riding really just progressed from there. I always had an interest. We did gymkhanas in the bush, but I didn’t race until I was 19. I bought my first motocross bike – a second-hand 1992 YZ250 – when I was 18, and went out for my first race when I was 19. I raced motocross for a few years.

AdvR: How did you go on it?
RF: I got flogged, actually.I had no idea what motocross was about when I started. I’d never actually been to a race. I’d watched a bit of it on TV and read ADB magazines, but there was no racing out in Longreach. It was a bit of a steep learning curve, I suppose. I got the bug pretty quickly, though.

AdvR: How did the move from motocross to rally raids come about?
RF: I didn’t race too much in the early- and mid-2000s because there just wasn’t time. We were getting the business going and we had family on the way. The first of our two boys arrived then. I dabbled in the odd club-day motocross, but nothing serious.In 2006 I went to the Finke Desert Race. A couple of my mates had done it and reckoned it was a good thing. They suggested I have go.I rode a YZ450F and I sort of took to it. I think I finished 22nd outright that year, which was a reasonable effort at the time. Finke’s always been pretty big. It was the same as when I started motocross in that I didn’t really know what I was in for until I got over there, but that style of riding suited me a bit more. Growing up out here in Longreach meant I was used to rough country and higher speeds.That was all I the racing did in 2006. The following year I did Finke again, and I think I got a top 20.In 2008 I just decided to do a few more races. I tackled my first Condo 750, first Australian Safari, Hattah, and did Finke again.

Rod Faggotter. The Longreach-based bike-shop proprietor has a string of big races to his credit, including several Dakars.

AdvR: You’ve battled a bit compared to some, haven’t you? You’ve been on your own for quite a while.“Growing up out here in Longreach meant I was used to rough country and higher speeds. ”
RF: I wouldn’t say I’ve ‘battled’, really.
No-one out here really races much. I suppose I didn’t have the mum’n’dad scenario where they took me racing all the time, but by 2006 I was into my 30s.
At that age you just go and do these things yourself.
I found it easier to do it by myself, because that way no-one could let me down.

AdvR: In 2008 you finished second outright in your first Safari. That must’ve been pretty special for a bloke on his own. There were some high-powered teams running.
RF: I guess it sums up rally racing. It helps, and it makes it easier, to be part of a team, but you don’t have to have the best bike or the best team to get good results.
I guess I really got the bug for rally riding after that event because it was just raw. It was through Western Australia’s country roads and tracks and along fencelines. Apart from the navigating side of things, which I was still learning, for me it was just what I grew up with. I love that sort of riding.

AdvR: You got your first Safari win in 2013, and by that time you had your own team.
RF: Yamaha had been gradually stepping up the help from 2008 onward. I was still a solo operator, but with a mechanic and a bit of support.
We started the team in 2012 and we didn’t get a result that year.
In 2013 I ran the team from here at Centretune and fielded four bikes including my own. We found a shipping container and sent all the bikes and gear, set up and ready, from Longreach across to Perth. And we got the result: first and third.
We were very pumped with that outcome for a small country town.

AdvR: You won again in 2014.
RF: Yeah. I had another win, which was great.
That was the last one. AJ Roberts’ Activ8 team ran the support for us.
Trying to run a business and trying to run a team, even finding the time to train and build bikes, is pretty hard, so when the offer came for Roberts’ team to handle the support, it made my life a lot easier.

14th outright in the 2013 Dakar. Awesome.

AdvR: Has Dakar always been a dream since you started riding?
RF: It was one of those things where you think it’d be pretty cool, but you can’t believe you’d ever get to do it. It was a pretty far-fetched dream, I suppose.
Dave Schwartz (an Australian off-road international – ed) was on a few of those Safaris and he’d done Dakar. That gave me a gauge of the speed and rallycraft needed, but it really came about in mid-2011.
Gary Connell was then running the Husaberg team. He’d tried Dakar himself and didn’t get through, but he wanted to run a team with a couple of Aussies.
He grabbed Dave Schwartz and myself “I rocked up to Dakar in 2013 and I’d never met the guys. The first time I rode the bike was in the first stage. ”and we went there in 2012. They supplied the Husaberg bikes and logistics and we had to come up with the money for the flights, entries and some of the fees.
So it still cost a fair bit.
But it was a good opportunity to get involved in the event and it took away some of the organisation stress, because Gary did a lot of that.
That year I only got to the fifth day and blew a motor, but even on a privateer bike, a bit underpowered and a bit heavy, I was still getting around top-20 results, so it gave me heart. I needed to go back and have a few more goes at it.

AdvR: How long before you had another crack?
RF: I went back in 2013.
I tried a lot of options throughout the year and ended up getting basically a customer ride where I paid for the bike and the support through Yamaha France.
Obviously Centretune Motorcycles is a Yamaha and Kawasaki dealership, and I’ve done most of my racing on Yamahas, so it was a good fit.
To raise the money we did a lot of fundraising, sponsorship and media.
People chipped in and helped where they could.
I rocked up to Dakar in 2013 and I’d never met the guys. The first time I rode the bike was in the first stage. As far as logistics went it was easier, but as far as preparation went, it probably wasn’t the best.
But you learn the bike pretty quick in the first week of Dakar.

AdvR: How’d you go in 2013?
RF: I finished 14th outright.
It was a lot better result than I’d had previously. I had a few other Aussies around me, and that was good. Ben Grabham and I were tousling around the same position. I ended up 14th and Ben 15th, so it was a good result for both of us.

AdvR: Did you have the bug? As soon as Dakar finished were you thinking, “Man! I can’t wait to get back here next year!”
RF: I definitely had the bug.
Financially it was pretty tough though, especially in the bush.
It was around the time live-cattle export markets hit the wall and drought started kicking in pretty hard. It was pointless trying to raise the money through fundraisers. We were doing it tough here in the business too, so we had to be careful. It took quite a while to recover financially from that ride in 2013.
There’s not a lot of factory rides or supported rides available for Dakar, especially for riders not based in Europe, and I never came up with a solution. I didn’t go back the next few years because the support wasn’t there and I couldn’t afford it with our economic situation.
Nothing really happened until last year – 2016. I decided to go to Abu Dhabi to do the Desert Challenge with Jake Smith and a couple of other Aussies.
I was still hammering the Yamaha guys the whole time. I asked if Yamaha had support at the Abu Dhabi rally, at least in refuels or logistical support, but there was no program there. Yamaha said it wanted to talk to me about Dakar and other things. The team had only just become a Yamaha Japan factory-backed outfit. Previously they’d been run from Europe.

AdvR: How did you go in Abu Dhabi?
RF: Pretty shit, to be honest.
I’d raced the Condo 750 the weekend before. I was leading the event when I hit an unseen obstacle and was knocked out.
I was pretty sore but went to Abu Dhabi few days later anyway. I started off in the top 15 in the prologue and the first day was going all right, but I had some minor mechanical issues plus the injuries from the previous weekend and it put me out of the event.
Fortunately, the relationship with the Yamalube Yamaha factory team just sort of grew from there, and the deal to be the “I’d raced the Condo 750 the weekend before. I was leading the event when I hit an unseen obstacle and was knocked out. ”
support rider/waterboy for the Yamaha Dakar team happened.

AdvR: As ‘waterboy’ what were your responsibilities within the team?
RF: Essentially I’m in the event, I ride my own race, but it’s expected the factory riders are going to be faster and that I’ll help them if they have a mechanical problem or if they need assistance – say they get bogged or something. I’d have to pull up and help them.
The ultimate sacrifice is if they break something on their bike, like a wheel or something major, I would be expected to give up that part off my bike to keep them going and if I DNF because of it, well so be it.
That’s the understanding.

The deal to be the support rider/waterboy for the Yamaha Factory Dakar team in 2017 meant Rod could ride his own race, but was expected to help the other Yamaha team riders.

AdvR: That was your position in the team,but you were the fastest Yamaha rider.
RF: I finished tenth on the second day, in front of all the official Yamaha riders.
There was plenty of support and the team managers were pumped for me.
They were really rapt. I guess it just caused a minor hiccough as to who was going to look after who after that, seeing as the waterboy was in front at the time.

AdvR: You had a mechanical DNF which was a heartbreaker, you looked after Toby on the way out of South America and now you’re home in Longreach. What’s happening? Are you going back to Dakar in 2018?
RF: I won’t know for a month or two.
The deal for Dakar 2017 was just for Dakar 2017 to see how everything would go and how everyone would gel.
The team was happy with me and has expressed interest in including me again, but those guys still have to sit down and debrief and talk to the bean counters.
They have to work out what riders they can afford and what riders they’re going to keep for next year and go from there.

AdvR: Obviously you have the business to run and a family to look after. How does a bloke relax between Dakars?
RF: (Laughs). Well, I have 10- and 13-year-old sons, and they’ve started racing motocross in the last year or two.
Most weekends we get them out for a ride. We take them to the regional motocross every few weekends.
That’s tough and time-consuming in itself. Our closest club day is a 900km round trip. If we do any other rounds it’s even more than that. It’s a pretty big commitment just to take those boys away.
If I know I’m getting ready for a rally, I need to set aside some time for training and preparation for the smaller ones. If it’s Dakar I can count the last six months of the year taken up in getting ready.
That’s probably my free time covered at the moment.

AdvR: How can readers stay in touch with your racing in general and your Dakar in particular?
RF: The best bet is the Facebook page: rodney faggotter offroad racing.

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