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Australian Dakar Rally veteran Bruce Garland has set his sights on the 2013 Dakar Rally, and will begin his preparations with next week’s Finke Desert Race, just 16 months after having major heart surgery.

Sydney-based Garland has entered the famous outback event over the Queen’s birthday weekend (June 9-11), driving the all-new 2012 Isuzu D-MAX ute in its international offroad racing debut.

It’s the first step of preparation for the new car, on its route to South America and another attack on the world’s most gruelling motorsport event. This is the fifth variant of the D-MAX as built by Garland’s Isuzu Motorsports team.

It’s also a big step for Garland: the offroad racing champion fractured a vertebra during the 2011 Dakar Rally then had a heart attack two months later while on holidays in Victoria.

He was operated on at Melbourne’s MonashHeart, having five bypasses in the process, and since then a return to Dakar has not been far from his mind. The 37th annual Finke classic is a logical starting point for his campaign.

“I am fighting fit and dangerous again, and probably a helluva lot fitter than I was before the heart surgery,” says Garland.

“The Finke Desert Race is a great event and one of our favourites, but it is a really tough race so it’s a great way to test new components for the car.

“While obviously we would like to be the first diesel to win a 4x4 class in the event, the main aim is to dial in the new car. We’ve got some new shocks to try and a new aerodynamic package, and some new Toyo Mud Terrain tyres to test.

“But there’s no new engine as such. The Dakar organisation has changed the rules for this year and we already match the spec in terms of speed, so we can’t do anything to the engine aside from making sure it is as tough and reliable as it can be.

“Of course, the other goal of doing this event is to see how I’m travelling fitness-wise. We’re well down the track for Dakar in January, and both the car and I have to be as match-fit as we can.”

It sounds like all work and no play for Garland, who has competed in the two-day, 460km off-road classic a dozen times, but obviously that’s not the whole story.

“I’ve always said you should never do anything without having the fun meter ticking, and I certainly had that brought home to me big-time last year, so that’s what we’ll be doing. You have to enjoy what you’re doing, or there’s no point.”

Garland and long-term co-driver Harry Suzuki have another aim for this year – to be first diesel winner of the Australasian Safari – before they head across to South America. After a DNF in 2010 and last year’s disastrous crash, they really want to improve on their 2009 result of 11th outright.

Thousands of spectators are expected to line the rough desert track between Alice Springs and the small Aputula (Finke) community when more than 600 competitors (cars, buggies, 4WDs, bikes and quads) tackle one of the world’s most difficult offroad courses in one of the world’s most remote areas.

After a Prologue on Saturday, June 9 to determine the starting order, competitors race through the desert and across one of the oldest rivers in the world (the Finke) before camping out overnight at the Aboriginal settlement. Any damage done on Day One (Sunday) must be fixed during the overnight stop before the field tackles the return run to Alice Springs on the holiday Monday.

The D-MAX will compete in the Extreme 4WD class for highly modified 4WDs with engines under 7200cc (diesel or 6000cc (petrol). The D-MAX, hand-built in Garland’s Sydney workshop, puts out 180kW of power and 590Nm of torque.

Sponsored by Tattersalls, the Finke is the richest off-road race in the Southern Hemisphere. It started in 1976 as a ‘there and back’ challenge for local bike riders but soon grew. Cars and buggies (specialist desert racers) were introduced in 1988. 
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