NEWCASTLE motorcyclist Troy O'Connor's first goal is simply to finish the Dakar Rally when the 34th edition of the 8400-kilometre race starts today from the Peruvian capital of Lima.
The 35-year-old son of Blackbutt Hotel publican Terry O'Connor will ride a KTM 450 Rally Replica in his maiden attempt at the race, which is due to finish at Santiago in Chile on January 20.
His Dakar debut was sealed in April when he completed a deal with a Polish team, Orlen, while competing at the Desert Challenge in Abu Dhabi.
"I first filled in the entry form for the Dakar last year but wasn't accepted, so I decided to do the Desert Challenge to get more experience," O'Connor told the Dakar Rally website.
"I used to play a lot of rugby league before and didn't have enough time to ride and compete.
"I even decided to go to South America in 2010 to see what the Dakar was like.
"The deal with Orlen happened over vodka in Abu Dhabi. I had planned to hire a bike and go to the Dakar with a mechanic. But speaking with Marek Dabrowski, he said he would help and here I am at Orlen.
"We really have a good connection. I was lucky enough to stumble across them. Now I'm just going to go over to the Dakar and do the best I can. I'd be happy to help anyone, whether it's a Pole or an Aussie.
"I just want to finish, hopefully in the top 50.
"In Abu Dhabi, I would often be in the top 20 when out of trouble.
"Over there I didn't struggle in the sand and never had problems with terrain.
"My biggest problem is crashing."
O'Connor is one of 14 Australians taking part in the event, which has question marks over its safety record.
A total of 459 vehicles will compete this year.
The Dakar has claimed 59 lives, including 20 spectators, over the years.
Last year Argentine rider Jorge Martinez Boero was killed on the first day.