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Garland returns to Dakar

A broken back and a heart attack would be enough to put most people off racing altogether, let alone the punishing Dakar rally. But neither will stop Bruce ‘Lazarus’ Garland taking on the world’s meanest rally in his Isuzu D-Max ute from January 5 in Lima, Peru.

The 54-year-old fractured a vertebra in the 2011 Dakar when he landed heavily in a sand dune. It ended the event for Garland and long-time co-driver Harry Suzuki, who was not injured. It was a big setback, but the situation worsened when Garland suffered a heart attack two months later.

“At one point I didn’t think I would make it out of the hospital,” Garland says. “I got ready to die, did my will and all that stuff.” Expert care at the MonashHeart hospital meant Garland survived, but only after open-heart surgery that included five heart bypasses.

Garland, who had competed in four Dakar events, was determined to make it back into the D-Max driver’s seat. “I said I had some unfinished business, so I had to get back,” he says. A Dakar campaign seemed unlikely early on. “I couldn’t walk out to the letterbox when I got home,” Garland says.

With the help of his wife Celena and a personal trainer, Garland improved steadily. He worked with Isuzu to build a racing version of the all-new D-Max, but the company was going through its own problems. “This all happened around about the time of that terrible Tsunami in Japan, so Isuzu was having a hard time as well,” Garland says.

His car was one of the first of the new generation models off the Thailand production line, which was soon hit by devastating floods. “That was a terrible flood, really, really bad. They actually lost track of the ute in the middle of all of that and then found it in a field with some other stock about a month later.”

Despite all the setbacks, Garland, Suzuki and his team were able to get the D-Max ready for the brutal Finke desert in June. Not only was the race, known for its high speed jumps, going to test the new ute, but also Garland’s back. “If anything is going to hurt your back, it’s the Finke,” Garland says.

The event went well and the team did some other testing before heading across to WA’s Australian Safari at the end of September. It went pear-shaped on day three when Garland hit a fence post. “Normally, it’s not an issue, but this one was set in concrete, so it did a lot of damage.”

The team decided to withdraw and fix the damage because the ute had to be shipped overseas in order for it to join the Dakar field. Joining it in the container was an Isuzu NPS 300 crew cab, which will carry a lot of the team’s spares from stage to stage. “It’s a great little thing with room for lots of gear, there’s a fridge in the back and two seats,” Garland says.

He and Suzuki are in the car class, but often race in amongst the awesome heavy trucks that compete at Dakar. “When one of those things comes past it’s like a bloody tornado they throw up that much sand and dust,” Garland says. “You look across and all you see is their wheels, which are almost as tall as our ute.”

Caution is required near the big rigs. “You don’t want to get in their way,” Garland says. “They don’t move or stop for anything or anyone.” In fact, it was a truck that contributed to Garland back-crunching crash in 2011. “We were in the sand dunes next to two trucks and I didn’t want to cut across and get hit by them. I was looking across and drove right off a cliff and into the ravine,” Garland says.

He is confident of a top ten finish this year, which would beat his best result of eleventh, but deep down he knows making the start will be a great achievement in itself.

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