Australian Dakar Rally veteran Bruce Garland has confessed to ‘a moment of madness’, leaving today for the Northern Territory in preparation for next week’s Finke Desert Race, the toughest cross-country rally in the southern hemisphere.

The Sydney-based off-road racing champion has entered the famous outback event over the Queen’s birthday weekend (June 7-9). He and long-time co-driver Harry Suzuki will be driving the all-new 2014 Isuzu MU-X family SUV in its international off-road racing debut.

“I have told so many people to shoot me if I go back to this event. I love the people and the race itself, but I hate the track – I obviously keep forgetting how much pain is involved!”

Six months of hard work have gone into preparing the MU-X for its first race but the strip-out didn’t remove the air conditioning – a first for an Isuzu rally car! Garland says he and Suzuki will use it and enjoy it if the weather is warm!

The car – Isuzu’s first entry into the world of seven-seat family transport – is powered by a three-litre turbo diesel. Standard power and torque figures are130kW/380NM, but this vehicle is expected to pump out a little more.

However Garland isn’t aiming for huge increases – the MU-X is entered in Class Seven for Production 4WD vehicles, which means it remains close to stock-standard and a ‘slightly slower’ experience than in the high-speed, modified, high-performance Class Eight (Extreme 4WD) competition that he has dominated in the past.

“It takes a lot of guts for a manufacturer to test a vehicle on the roughest road in Australia and we’re grateful to Isuzu for giving us the chance to demonstrate their confidence in this new car,” Garland says.

“Aside from simply seeing how well the MU-X will go in the event, we will be testing some new components from Japan and it is always exciting to be involved in developing a new model.

“We were involved with the D-MAX ute right from the start, and I think we contributed a great deal to its development, so it’s fantastic to have the chance to do the same with the MU-X.

“Obviously we have an eye to competing again in the Dakar Rally, so everything we do with this car and this race has that as our focus.”

The 39th annual Finke classic is a logical starting point for his campaign, given the Dakar-like punishment it will dish out, and this year’s run over the two-day, 460km race will be Garland’s 14th start in the event.

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

After a Prologue on Saturday, June 7 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.

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 racing vehicles) were introduced in 1988.

Garland Motorsports races with support from Toyo Tires, Royal Purple Oils and Disc Brakes Australia.

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