After an exceptional preparation and race simulation, Victorian Callum Norton heads into this weekend’s (June 11-13) Finke Desert Race in the Northern Territory with the confidence to push for an elusive maiden Sherco victory in the iconic off-road showpiece.

The Victorian will compete on a 2023 500 SEF Factory under the Motul Pirelli Sherco Race Team banner at Finke – the same machine he used for a recent race simulation where he completed the full 460km return trip from Alice Springs to Finke in one day.

“Without a doubt this has been the best Finke preparation I’ve ever had,” said Norton, who’s revelling in the return to his bread-and-butter – pushing to the limits in vast open spaces.

“The 2023 model 500 is performing beautifully, and our race engine not only has a great top-end but it accelerates hard – ideal for getting back up to full mast after having to wash off some speed.

“I even surprised myself in the race simulation: a great time – my best ever – considering the track is a fair bit rougher than last year and I was still riding within myself to keep some in reserve for the race.”

Callum enjoys a rough track – “the rougher the better” – and he’s done some great work with the team at Choice Suspension to dial in his race bike.

“To be honest, I haven’t changed a lot suspension-wise from my practice to race bike,” said Callum, who’s embarking on his fourth Finke start.

“I recently spent a day with Choice and (Sherco race team manager) Derek Grundy just dialling in some of the clickers, and I’d say my bike is more of a rougher track setup which means I’ll have to put up the legendary Finke track corrugations in the knowledge that my bike will be purring across the whoops and heavier hits.

“It’s about finding a good medium, and I’m confident we’ve got the suspension package to get the job done.”

After recent rain in the Northern Territory, there’s still some moisture in the track which means that dust may not be such an omnipresent issue in 2022.

Based on a deeper line of sight – ideal when lining up passing manoeuvres – Callum believes this year’s pace will be a cracker and the winning rider will probably have to complete each 230km leg in around 105 to 110 minutes. 

The overall race record of three hours, 46 minutes and 55 seconds is held by Toby Price at an average speed of nearly 122km/h.

Race bike resting, practice winding down
After three hours track time, Callum’s race bike has now been parked and will be given the assiduous final once over by Grundy ahead of the prologue on Saturday.

With the race bike on ice, Callum will now return to his practice bike for one last mini jaunt tomorrow, with the brief more about track observation than raw speed.

“I’ll just ride at 50 per cent in the final practice and then rest up ahead of the prologue,” said Callum, who was fifth at last year’s Finke.

“I’ve had some up and down performances in the prologue, but this year I really want to nail it to give myself the best possible chance in the race.”

Cracker field
Seven of last year’s top 10 in the Finke Desert Race – all from the big-bore 451cc and over four-stroke class – will return in 2022, including defending champion David Walsh, Jack Simpson, Rick Ireland, the Waters brothers (Nick and Brodie) and Jacob Smith.

Ben Grabham, Walsh and Smith are the three former and current Finke champions in this year’s field.

In the Finke Sherco corner, Norton will be joined by four other riders in the booming 451cc and over four-stroke class: Ryan Cossens, Lachy McClelland, Mitchell Ireland and Jason Grant.

Norton has recently spent many hours practicing and sharing setup with Cossens and McClelland, who are competing under the Tweaked Performance banner in 2022. Cossens was eighth in the 2016 edition of the Finke.

A Sherco is also lurking in 251-450cc four-stroke class, as well as a massive 18 across the masters, seniors and veterans divisions thanks to the Finke race program being run by the Alice Springs-based Outback Motorcycle Adventures.

To view the motorcycle entry list, click here.

The prologue for the 2022 Finke Desert Race will be held on June 11, which will determine the starting order for the run to Finke on Sunday. Then it will all happen in reverse on Monday.

For more information on the event, including all you need to know as a spectator, click here.