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After some last-minute sand driving – and digging – practice, veteran Australian off-road racer Bruce Garland is ready for the 2013 Dakar Rally.

Garland and long-time co-driver Harry Suzuki have spent a day on the sand dunes at Stockton Beach, near Newcastle, honing their skills in readiness for some of the challenges the world’s most famous desert race will throw at them.

Their excavating skills could be needed if they get bogged in the kilometres of ‘fesh-fesh’ – the South American equivalent of bulldust – that are part of the route, and ready to trap competitors, along with acres of huge sand dunes, one of which is nearly 1.4km tall – the highest known sand dune in the world!

The Isuzu Motorsports team leaves Sydney for South America on December 27 to do their final preparations – including some altitude training – before the two-week event kicks off in Peru on Saturday, January 5. The 2012 Isuzu D-MAX built in Garland’s Sydney workshop was shipped two months ago.

“After three previous runs at this event, we know what to expect in terms of heat and altitude, but you can never be too careful,” Garland says.

“We have been specifically training for both, and we will do some more work when we get there. We’ve also ordered some oxygen bottles. Next year’s event takes us up to nearly 5000m, much higher than the previous races, and for a longer period of time. If you’re not properly prepared for those conditions, things can get pretty nasty, pretty quickly.”

This will be the team’s first run at the Dakar since Garland fractured a vertebra while landing heavily over a sand dune during the 2011 event. Two months after returning from hospital in Chile, he had a heart attack while on holidays in Melbourne and had five coronary bypasses at MonashHeart.

“They gave me my life back! Without the team at MonashHeart, I wouldn’t be able to have another crack at it. I really feel I have unfinished business over there.

“Our best result so far was 11th outright and first diesel ute home, back in 2009. We were doing well in 2010 until a freak incident – the spare wheel came loose and smashed the radiator – put us out, and then we had the crash in 2011. We are aiming for a top 10 finish this time around – no ifs, buts or maybes about it!

“Dakar is the ultimate challenge for an off-road racer. It’s like Mt Everest for a mountain climber. Everyone that lives, dies. But not everyone who dies has lived, and you haven't felt the power of living until you have done the Dakar!”

This time around, Garland and Suzuki will not be going it alone. They have prepared a second Isuzu D-MAX to be crewed by West Australian driver, Adrian Di Lallo, and Melbourne’s Steve Riley. Riley, a highly experienced off-road racer who is more accustomed to being in the driver’s seat, will be in the navigator’s seat for Dakar 2013.

“We’ll be working together as a team, sharing parts and service crew, and if one vehicle strikes trouble, it will be up to the others to fly the flag. Adrian’s a rookie to this event, but he knows what he is doing and Steve does too. All of us are champing at the bit now, to get over there and give it a shot.”

A total of 459 vehicles (bikes, quads, ‘cars’ and trucks), representing a new record of 53 different countries, will be on the start line in Peru for the 35th running of the Dakar Rally. It’s the fifth to take place on the South American continent, which has hosted the event since 2009. The switch was made after terrorist threats cancelled the 2008 event in its traditional home of Africa.

The 2013 Dakar Rally ends in Santiago, Chile, on January 20 after travelling more than 8000km. Last year just 249 of the 443 vehicles that started the event actually finished it.
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