Although the 2021 Hattah Desert Race belonged to eventual winner Daniel Milner, two Mildura riders achieved great results, finishing in the top 10.
Liam Mason finished fifth, and Sam Pretscherer just four places behind in ninth.
Mason rode well right from the get-go, exceeding his expectations in the prologue on Saturday.
“I went into prologue aiming for a spot in the top 15 as the main race the next day is such a long race, it really can be won from a spot anywhere in the 20,” Mason said.
“Due to a DNF in 2019 I had to start from back in my class so the track was already quite rough by the time I got to it, and a shower of rain as I went to start definitely made things interesting.
“It really wasn’t a clean lap at all, I made a fair few mistakes and had some pretty dicey moments on the wet salt pan but managed to get 10th which put me into shootout, which I was stoked about.”
Making the shootout, Mason said the pressure was off, because he knew worse case scenario he would be taking off 10th.
“I really just focused on putting a clean lap together and having fun,” he said of the shootout.
“It had to be one of the coolest experiences of my life, the track was lined with people pretty much the entire way around, I felt like I was at Bathurst.
“I put a lap together I was much happier with and managed to step up three spots so I was locked in to take off seventh the next morning.”
Mason’s Hattah assault the next day was a different story from the first, as he struggled with problem after problem.
“The race itself really didn’t go to plan at all, I had a first lap from hell,” he said.
“My roll-off system on my goggles malfunctioned about five minutes into the race and I had issues with my clutch not long after that.
“At this stage I was really just nursing the bike staying off the clutch trying to get back to the pits.
“Then towards the end of the lap I was struggling to see, misjudged a corner and ended up having a pretty big crash over bars landing on my head and exploding my hydration pack.
“Once I got to the pits I sort of had to reset, grab fresh goggles and straighten out the bike then just get into it.”
Thankfully Mason’s bike issues went away after another lap and from that point, he said, it was a charge to the finish.
“In such a long race it’s never over until the chequered flag flies,” he said.
“I knew I’d put in the work and would be fit enough to wear a lot of the other guys down.
“I just started clicking the laps off and finished really strong, ending up fifth outright and second in class which was really a dream come true.
“The feeling of crossing the line and being pointed back to the interviews is something I think any kids who grows up watching this race dreams of.”
Mason said placing so highly in the Hattah Desert Race is not only a huge goal of his ticked off, but also comes as a sense of relief.
“There is so much work and sacrifice that goes into this sport when you’re racing at this level that not many people see or will ever know about and you really do question why you’re doing it sometimes,” he added.
“But for me this result makes it all worth it and really motivates me to keep working hard for it and make the most of the opportunities I have.”
Placing in the top 10 means Mason will also have an advantage in next year’s event, with the rider being the fifth out for prologue – and able to make the most of a fresh track.
But there’s another perk Mason is very much looking forward to.
“I really can’t wait to be running that big number five on my bike.”