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Cross-country racer Bruce Garland is in ninth outright as the 2013 Australasian Safari draws to a close.

Competing under the banner of Team Toyo and their own company, Isuzu Motorsports, the Sydney-based Dakar Rally veteran and navigator Harry Suzuki gained another place yesterday after 466km of racing between Carnarvon and Kalbarri, 592km north of Perth.

The day’s racing was a subdued affair, as competitors and organisers came to terms with the loss of a popular member of the Safari ‘family’ the previous day. Motorbike rider Ivan Erceg died in a crash on the first stage of Day Five, just hours after he had been laughing and talking with the Isuzu D-MAX duo who have known him for several years.

Organisers reduced yesterday’s competition by one stage for the moto riders, many of whom wore black armbands, but the auto category did the two sections as originally planned.

In the first stage, which covered 260km, autos and side-by-sides tackled cattle station country with fast fence lines. The route became progressively rougher before winding up on rally-style roads through Hamelin Station. On Stage Two, where all competitors raced, the course took in the soft white sand coastline along Murchison Station, and the western side of the Murchison River.

“The Toyo tyres we’ve been using have been really fantastic on this event,” Garland says.

“They’re good under heavy braking and cornering and as tough as old boots. It’s so rough out there and a lot of people have had multiple punctures but not us – fingers crossed I don’t jinx us! They’ve just been amazing.

“We’ve got a lot of beach running today, so we’re going to test some special new Toyo sand tyres and see how they go. If they’re as good as what we have been on, I’ll be very happy.”

Today is the final leg and competitors will be bringing it home to Geraldton.  They will be racing in three short stages (17.82km, 23.22km and 33.08km for a final total for the week of 3200km) before the ceremonial finish on the foreshores at Geraldton.  

The D-MAX Garland and Suzuki are driving is 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 is entered in the international T2 class that covers 4WD vehicles with some minor modifications.

“This D-MAX has been fantastic all through the event – it’s very strong,” Garland says.

“Yesterday was punishing, but it was excellent. Didn’t miss a beat. It has taken me a little while to come to terms with driving it because it is different to our Dakar cars, but I’m very impressed with the way it has performed.”

The 2013 Australasian Safari is in its 28th year. Garland and Suzuki are contesting the seven-day endurance race for the 17th time, and have won it five times.

Photo: Guisy Concina

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