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Desert racing champion Bruce Garland will contest Australia’s iconic Finke Desert Race next month as the first step in his preparations to compete in the 2010 Dakar Rally.

Garland and long-time navigator Harry Suzuki and their ‘home-made’ Isuzu D-MAX ute finished 11th outright in the world’s most famous cross-country rally when they tackled it in January this year.

“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 and see if we can make it even tougher and faster so we can go harder and faster in the Dakar,” says Garland.

He and Suzuki will utilize the vehicle known as ‘D-MAX One’ in the Alice Springs-based event which runs from June 5-8. ‘One’ was the prototype for the Dakar car, and finished fourth in the Condobolin 750 and third outright in the Australasian Safari last year, both test events for the Isuzu’s first run in Dakar. After such a good start to the D-MAX’s competitive life, the crew is aiming even higher this year.

“We want to be the first diesel to win a 4X4 class in the Finke,” says Garland, who has competed in the two-day, 460km off-road classic about 10 times.

“It is a pretty tall order given the competition, but we’re feeling pretty confident − and then we want to win the Safari outright. We will be running much higher up the order at Dakar anyway next time, but if all goes according to plan at Finke and the Safari, people will really sit up and take notice.”

In between races, Garland and Suzuki will be meeting for talks with a number of international companies keen to back the duo in another tilt in Argentina. The Dakar was run from Buenos Aires to Chile and back this year, after terrorist threats forced the traditionally African-based event to be cancelled on the eve of the start in 2008, and it will return to South America for 2010.

“I think people now realise the extent of the coverage the Dakar gets. The worldwide audience is huge and that makes it very attractive to sponsors, so we’re hoping to pull together a really good budget for next year and improve on our 11th place.”

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

After a Prologue on Saturday, June 6 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.

Garland and Suzuki’s D-MAX will compete in the Extreme 4WD class which is for highly modified 4WDs with engines under six litres. Their vehicle, hand-built in Garland’s Sydney workshop, puts out 160kW of power (up 33 per cent on the standard Isuzu D-MAX ute) and 500Nm of torque (@2000rpm, an increase of 39 per cent).

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.

Among this year’s spectators will be a number of journalists from the Middle East who are being brought to Australia by Isuzu Operations Thailand, especially to watch Garland and Suzuki in action.

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