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Cross-country race star Bruce Garland says both he and his showroom Isuzu D-MAX are better and stronger at the end of the 2013 Australasian Safari than they were at the start.

Yesterday’s final leg of the gruelling West Australian outback enduro saw competitors tackle three stages with a variety of conditions including a beach blast, farmland with sharp rocky tracks, steep beach descents and a fast run through sheep paddocks, with crests, gutters, ruts and creeks all creating hazards.

Competitors finished on the edge of the Indian Ocean at Geraldton, 424km north of Perth, where the event began seven days ago.

As the Safari came to a close, competing motorcycle riders formed a guard of honour and waited while the bike number and race card of their friend Ivan Erceg was formally delivered through the finish line by a friend and fellow competitor. Mr Erceg died three days ago in a crash on the first stage of Leg Five.

While still saddened at the loss of someone he considered a good mate in the sport, Garland is elated to have had a strong finish in the event and says this year’s Safari proved just how tough and reliable the Isuzu product range is.

“There were five Isuzus in the top 10, three class wins and one that was first diesel home and third outright – sadly not us this time around, but we are very happy with our result.

“This was a brand-new vehicle at the start, never raced before, and it was sensational all week, super-strong and super-reliable. Our Toyo tyres were exactly the same.

“Other competitors were plagued with punctures but it simply wasn’t something we had to deal with. We used the beach stage to test some special new sand tyres that Toyo has just developed and they were fantastic too, so I am very happy.”

Competing under the banner of Team Toyo and their own company, Isuzu Motorsports, Garland and navigator Harry Suzuki finished ninth outright after 3200km of hard racing.

The D-MAX they drove was almost a showroom variant, rather than the high performance ‘Dakar spec’ racing ute they usually compete with. It has around 20 per cent more power and torque (156kW; 456Nm) than the standard model and topped the international T2 class that covers 4WD vehicles with some minor modifications, but was never in outright honours contention.

“I really do think it was better at the end of the event than it was at the start, but that’s because the engine is well and truly run in,” Garland says.

“It has been a great event and very well run as usual. The Safari team always does an amazing job. This week would have been really tough for them – it has been for everyone.

“Ivan was a great character, a great competitor and a good mate, and we’ll be having a few beers in his memory. While he was doing something that he loved, and having a fantastic time, he was too young to go. We feel for his family and friends and they are very much in our thoughts.”

The 2013 Australasian Safari was the 28th running of the event. It was the 17th time Garland and Suzuki have entered it. They have won it five times.
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