Sydney's Bruce Garland and co-driver Harry Suzuki are off to do the Everest of off-road marathons - the annual Dakar - after a standout result in this year's (now) South American-based torture test.
Garland/Suzuki finished a remarkable 11th out of 188 starters in their home-built Isuzu D-Max diesel ute last January .
Their machine was the first diesel ute and first production-chassis car to the finish.
Now they're aiming much higher.
"We're planning to be the first non-multi-million-dollar team home," says Garland, whose new Sydney-prepped D-Max diesel ute goes up against factory-supported 'Formula One' machines such as VW, Hummer and BMW.
"Because I didn't quite make the top 10 last year, I'm still classed as an 'amateur', so we want to be the first 'amateur' in the top 10, but we're thinking deep inside the top 10.
"Our other goal is to beat our old mate, Alfie Cox from South Africa - Australia has to beat South Africa at something!"
Garland's small team has built a new Isuzu D-Max ute that was packed off to Argentina last week. Its 3.0-litre turbo-diesel production engine has been further developed over last year's fairly mild upgrade with maximum torque up another 100Nm to 600Nm ? 66 per cent up on standard ? and an extra 20kW of power to peak at 180kW, 50 percent more than the road-going D-Max.
The specifications put the D-Max in Class T1.2, which is modified 4WD diesel.
"We think this engine will cope even better with the extreme weather conditions we know we will be facing and give us more top speed. We've also upgraded some other parts so they'll deal with the rugged terrain over there. It's much rougher than outback Australia."
Garland and Suzuki have the backing of Isuzu Ute Australia and Bridgestone Tyres for their assault - along with support from a number of smaller Australian companies.
"We're talking to a whole lot of people who want to be involved because they're so excited by what we achieved this year," Garland says.
"I think people realise what we are capable of, and understand there are better possibilities now we're more experienced with the event, and they want to be a part of that."
'The Dakar', as it's universally known, is the world's premier off-road competition, attracting around 500 cars, trucks and motorbikes from around the globe. It will be run over 9000km from Argentina to Chile and back again, from January 2 - 17, next year.
Originally known as the Paris-Dakar, the Dakar Rally has been staged in Europe and Africa since 1978, but the 2008 event was cancelled after terrorist threats, so organisers moved it to South America for 2009, the first time it has been run outside Europe and Africa.
The off-road endurance marathon crosses the Andes at a lofty 4700m altitude and traverses kilometre-high dunes as well as rivers, saltpans and mudflats. A day's competition can be 800-900km of flat out driving, only stopping for control points and fuel. It's called a rally-raid rather than a conventional rally because its route terrain is much tougher than normal rallies and is often trackless.
The top Dakar 'cars' are generally off-road utes or SUVs with carbon-fibre silhouette shells mounted on special 'space-frame' structures. By contrast, Garland's D-Max still uses its maker Isuzu's production steel cab and chassis ? albeit modified for extreme rally use.
Garland's team leaves Australia on December 23, with the official start on New Year's Day in downtown Buenos Aires, where the spectator crowd is tipped to top the million-plus of last January.
Photo credit: Juris Puisens
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