INTO THE SENIOR RANKS: Josh Murtagh, Max Ryan and Austin Ryan have graduated from the junior Hattah Desert Race to the senior category. Photo: PAUL MENSCH

A CONCERTED effort has been made in the last decade to expand the junior section of the iconic Hattah Desert Race.

The push has worked, with 250 riders up to age 16 taking part this weekend.

The gruelling Hattah track has long been an inviting challenge for riders, and the junior race has provided young riders with greater exposure to the conditions before jumping into senior racing.

Hattah Desert Race secretary, Gary Leeson, stated in last week’s edition of the Mildura Weekly that “over the last five or six years we’ve tried very hard to mirror image what the seniors do with the juniors.”

“On the Saturday, which is senior prologue and junior race day, they get to rub shoulders with some of the best off-road racers in the world,” he said.

Junior riders race for about two hours at Hattah, compared to around four hours and upwards for seniors.

For many young rev-heads, it is their first opportunity to tackle an enduro.

A number of local riders have graduated from the modified junior race.

Josh Murtagh competed in four Hattah junior races, winning the 2007 race along the way.

The 26-year-old will race in his seventh senior and 11th overall Hattah Desert Race this weekend, and is hoping to chase down a personal best of third in the KTM 250 class, and 16th overall, which he achieved in 2010.

Josh still remembers his first Hattah race in 2004, racing Big Wheel KTM 85.

“Riding in juniors was great, but it was definitely a bit more intimidating once you hit the senior level,” he said.

“It was just like any other junior enduro race but there was definitely a lot more hype to it.

“When I was younger I raced a lot more motocross, but over the last few years I’ve focussed more on enduros.”

Josh believed the tough 38-kilometre circuit was a major factor in Hattah becoming the event it is today.

“The track is so fast and tough, there is not much else like it in Australia,” he said.

“This year my number one aim is to finish the race, but hopefully I can finish higher than last year (19th).”

Brothers Austin and Max Ryan also came through the junior ranks, and will compete in Sunday’s Under 19 class.

Austin, 18, is two years into senior racing, while Max, 17, is enjoying his first year out of the juniors.

“There are a lot more competitors at Hattah than any other race I’ve been involved in,” Austin said.

“You spend almost twice as long on the bike too, so I had to be a lot more prepared to take on senior racing.

“Juniors gave me a great taste of some of the conditions to expect.”

Max said his brother was an influence in him making his Hattah debut at age 11.

“My brother had done it and (so had) a few mates, so I wanted to be involved and have a bit of fun,” he said.

“It’s going to be tough to make the jump but it should be good.

“The race has built its reputation for being rough, but I think all riders like the challenge of it.”