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IF YOU hung around after the fast cars fin­ished at the Finke Desert Race, you might have seen our friends from across the hall at Wheels mag­a­zine fin­ish the gru­elling race in a near­stock Mazda BT-50. This was the same car we used in our ute test in the Jan­uary 2016 is­sue. Since then, part-time 4X4 Aus­tralia con­trib­u­tor Toby Hagon has been driv­ing it around.

Race prepa­ra­tion was lim­ited to the essen­tials, as the Mazda team wanted to keep the car as standard as pos­si­ble and prove that it could con­quer Aus­tralia’s tough­est two-day off-road race. Toyo tyres, race seats and har­nesses, a rollcage, shocks and brake pads were the only changes.

Fin­ish­ing the two-day, 452km event with the car in one piece – and within the al­lot­ted max­i­mum time of four hours and 15 min­utes each day – seemed a lofty goal. So the fact Hagon and co-driver Bernie Webb not only made the fin­ish line but crossed it in sec­ond place in the Pro­duc­tion Class, in a time of 7:55.32, seems lit­tle short of a mir­a­cle.

How tough was it? Well, some old hands with more than a dozen years’ ex­pe­ri­ence were claim­ing this year’s course was the gnarli­est they’d seen. Out of 127 trucks and bug­gies en­tered, just 64 fin­ished. And out of those 127 en­tries, only the Mazda was driven to the start­ing line with a rego sticker on the win­dow – the rest were trucked in.

Fin­ish­ing was no walk in the park, though, with the shocks melt­ing and fail­ing on day one, and the BT-50 crawl­ing over the line with the dis­tance-to-empty read­ing just “4km”. Toby just man­aged to ex­tract him­self from the rollcage – a sight that looked not un­like a baby ele­phant pass­ing through the eye of a nee­dle – be­fore re­quir­ing med­i­cal as­sis­tance. It was more than 10 min­utes be­fore he could even at­tempt to walk.

“I’m not kid­ding when I say I can’t be­lieve that thing made it; there were some big hits. The ball joint has hit the in­side of the wheel arch and the chas­sis has hit the turbo pro­tec­tor and put a ding in it, and even the metal tool­box in the back has dents in it from where the tools hit the lid. Just in­cred­i­ble,” a hugely grin­ning Hagon said at the fin­ish line.

“The thing that men­tally killed me yes­ter­day was just how un­re­lent­ing it was. There’s a sec­tion in the sec­ond half where the bumps just go on and on, one after an­other, but to­day I knew it was go­ing to get bet­ter.”

Nav­i­ga­tor Bernie Webb added: “It was just bru­tal. I’ve had some big crashes in my time and I can hon­estly say, hop­ping out of the car yes­ter­day, I felt like I’d had a 130km/h rollover, it was that bad.”

The sat­is­fac­tion for Webb and Hagon and the whole team was not just in fin­ish­ing, and fin­ish­ing well – their time was more than three min­utes faster than the fourth-placed truck in their cat­e­gory – but in prov­ing their many, many doubters wrong.

“That car has stood up in­cred­i­bly well,” Hagon said. “I’ve never seen a car bru­talised in that way, and to have it still here and driv­ing is be­yond im­pres­sive.”

It’s a mir­a­cle the near­stan­dard BT-50 fin­ished the bru­tal Finke Desert Race with Hagon be­hind the wheel!

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