Finke and back in a day on one tank of fuel
Ducati Product Specialist and DRE Adventure Academy Chief Instructor, Nick Selleck, has ridden the arduous terrain between Alice Springs and the community of Finke – and back again – in just one day on board a stock Ducati DesertX, in a project nicknamed Mission: UnFinkable.
Run every June, the race sees competitors using bikes, cars and buggies compete for category honours in a gruelling two-day slog that sees racers and their crews leave Alice Springs with the hope of arriving in the town of Finke on day one, camp overnight to rest, tend to wounds and make necessary repairs, and then head back again on day two.
While the official race doesn’t currently offer an adventure category for motorcycles, Ducati Australia has long seen Finke as the ultimate test of durability; and when Nick Selleck confessed to having the Finke track on his riding bucket list, a plan was hatched and Mission: UnFinkeable was born. “It’s quite rare to be able to challenge both man and machine in this way, and the support and enthusiasm the project has received has been incredible,” Selleck recalled.
Focusing on pushing the limits of both bike and rider, it was immediately decided that Nick would take a standard Ducati DesertX with a factory eight-litre auxiliary tank to tackle Finke, with the ride set for two weeks after the race weekend.
This meant the track would be at its roughest, but remain relatively clear from traffic, giving Nick and the DesertX the chance to complete the ride as safely and efficiently as possible, while still racing against precious daylight hours: in short supply during winter.
All told, Nick would spend three full days and over 1000 km on the track riding the DesertX; which included track reconnaissance as well as capturing photography and videography to document the journey.
With only a small medical, logistics and photography team in-tow, Nick left his one-day, there-and-back run for the third day, having already completed close to 800 km in the DesertX’s saddle on the track.
Running around 230 km each way, the ride follows in the historic footprints of the Finke Desert Race track between Alice Springs and Finke, and could have been pulled straight from a Mad Max movie – all red desert, sand and rocky verges. The track is littered with the skeletons of broken machines and racers’ dreams: snaking between places of natural beauty and stark brutality.
As the officials put it, the Tatts Finke Desert Race is an offroad, multi-terrain two-day race for bikes, cars and buggies through desert country from Alice Springs to the small Aputula (Finke) community.
The race is held each year on the Queen’s/King’s Birthday long weekend in June. “Finke” as it is commonly known, is one of the biggest annual sporting events in the Northern Territory and has the reputation of being one of the most difficult offroad courses, in one of the most remote places, in the world.
Joining Nick on his epic ride, Ducati’s DesertX is built to tackle the world’s toughest terrains. As the first modern Ducati with a 21-inch front wheel and an 18-inch rear, the DesertX offers long travel suspension and a new frame designed specifically for off-roading.
Powered by a lighter, evolved version of the well-established 937 cc Testastretta engine, the DesertX packs a one-two punch of blistering performance (110 hp/92 Nm) and excellent fuel efficiency, making the most of its six unique driving modes – two of which have been specifically programmed for offroad use.
The additional eight-litre auxiliary fuel tank, a genuine factory option, maximises the DesertX’s endurance capabilities with up to a 40 per cent range increase. Aside from a small number of Nick’s hand-picked genuine Ducati Accessories, which included the rear auxiliary fuel tank, the bike tackled Finke in standard specification, with its standard factory suspension set-up.
Upon crossing the invisible Finke Desert Race finish line (with all race signage having already been removed and awaiting next year’s race) not long before dark, with fuel still left in the DesertX’s tank and having now ticked off a longstanding item on his bucket list, Nick was able to reflect on his experience among the desert dunes.
“After a total of three days in the saddle, and a full day riding there and back with little stopping, one thing remains certain: the DesertX has been the perfect companion for this trip. Not only is the bike comfortable and balanced just-right for this sort of terrain, but it is very light – something that I have no doubt helped with the fuel economy. I’m very keen to give the Finke race a go next time!”
“I am immensely proud of what we as a team have achieved with this project. There was a lot of personal stress for me in the lead-up with the realisation of how relentless and dangerous the track is. Would the DesertX’s standard suspension handle it? Would my body handle it? Would I make it with no refuelling?
“It was a big relief in so many ways to cross the finish line. Not just because of the fact that we made the entire 460km distance using only the factory fuel tanks, but that the bike fared so well in such brutal terrain. In fact, I didn’t have to lay a spanner on the bike all week, except for making clicker adjustments to the standard suspension! That was astonishing to me and a testament to Ducati’s durability.
“I am so impressed with how comparatively easily we accomplished this, and I would like to have another crack at it with the goal of setting a good time. Who knows, maybe we’ll give the race a go next time!”
Ducati Australia will release the trailer to the Mission: Un-Finkeable documentary shortly, followed by the full documentary in August. The film will provide a glimpse into Nick’s journey with the DesertX, and showcasing the beauty and ferocity of the region and the iconic desert race.