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Packets of peanuts will be the first items packed by offroad racer Bruce Garland as he heads off to Thailand to compete in next month’s  Asia Cross Country Rally.

“They have elephants to pull you out if you get stuck in the rivers, so we figure the elephants will look after us if we look after them!” laughs Garland, who will tackle the event with long-time navigator, Harry Suzuki, and their 2010 Dakar-spec Isuzu D-MAX 4x4 ute.

The rally kicks off in Pattaya on August 7 and finishes at Phrae (near the Laos border) on August 11, after covering 2010km of jungles, swamps and river crossings.

The Asian event is the first stage of Isuzu Motorsports’ campaign for this year. The team will also tackle the Australasian Safari in WA in September, debuting a new Isuzu D-MAX. If all goes well, that car will be on the boat to Buenos Aires in late October in readiness for a January start in the 2011 Dakar Rally.

“We’re certainly gearing up for Dakar and hope we can do it again next year,” says Garland, who impressed during the enduro’s South American debut in 2009, finishing as first diesel ute, first production chassis car, first ‘amateur’ (non-factory) crew and 11th outright, out of nearly 200 cars. A service-related quirk thwarted their Dakar assault this year.

“We just need to get some additional sponsorship together so we can do it properly. It’s not the sort of event that you go into under-resourced and under-prepared. It has been described as the Mount Everest of motorsport and that’s a pretty good analogy. If you don’t have the funds to do it seriously, you can get yourself into a lot of trouble.”

But before he can think about Argentina, Garland is focussed on the event in Asia and he’s optimistic of a good result – regardless of whether he wins any elephant hearts, or not!

“We would love to win it. We love playing in jungles and mud and our Bridgestone Dueler Mud Terrain tyres are designed for those conditions. Winning it would be a great result in terms of thanking Isuzu Thailand for their support.

“We last did this event in 2000 and came second, so it would be terrific to be one step further up the podium. Certainly the aim of the exercise is to lift the team’s profile over there. Thailand is the biggest market for Japanese-style one-tonne utes – or pick-ups as they call them – in the world, and we have fantastic dealer and customer support there.”

Garland and Suzuki’s ute was built in Garland’s Sydney backyard. The standard 3.0-litre turbo-diesel production engine was slightly tweaked for better performance in the Dakar. It has maximum torque of 600Nm – up 66 per cent on the standard roadgoing D-MAX ute – and peak power of 180kW, which is 50 per cent more than the standard vehicle.

When the team gets back from Thailand, they will put the finishing touches on the new car in readiness for its debut at the Safari. Aside from being fine-tuned specifically in line with all they have learned in the previous two events, this future Dakar challenger has a new Isuzu engine which has 10 per cent more power and torque than this year’s car.

The Australasian Safari will start in Perth on September 17 and finish in Esperance on September 25. The 2011 Dakar Rally crosses Argentina to the Chilean coast and back over the fortnight of January 1 to 16 next year.

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