TUESDAY, JANUARY 25: Bruce Garland (born 20.8.58) is preparing to blaze his way through the toughest terrain of the Northern Territory later this year in an attempt to create history and become the first three-times auto winner of the Australian Safari international motorsport cross-country rally.
The Sydney-based endurance competitor previously won the event in 1996 and 1999 in an Isuzu-General Motors backed Jackaroo with navigator Harry Suzuki. Garland will again drive a four-wheel-drive Jackaroo in the 2000 event from Alice Springs to Darwin from August 20-27.
The only others to win the Safari twice since it began in 1985 were Scot Andrew Cowan and Australia's David Officer in Ralliart Mitsubishi vehicles. Cowan won the inaugural event in 1985 and was also successful the following year, while Officer finished first in 1989 and 1991.
In the following interview, Garland speaks about his preparations for this year's Safari, the unique challenges of cross-country enduro racing, and other aspects of his career, including competing in the prestigious Paris-Dakar and Dubai events overseas.
QUESTION: How will you prepare for this year's Australian Safari?
ANSWER: "We will do two lead-up events, as in '99. They are the Condo 750 (in New South Wales) in April and the Finke Desert Race (in Northern Territory) in June. Both are important, and they double as a good test for the Safari. My team will be working fulltime on the vehicles in Sydney from April through to the end of the Safari in August."
Q: What are the costs of competing in the Safari and what equipment is required?
A: "All up it's probably about $200,000. A new Jackaroo specifically built for this event is around $120,000, but you can get away with less if you do a rebuild. Other costs include a truck to carry spare parts and another service vehicle. We take enough spares to replace almost every part, and then there's things like generators and welding equipment. Our team will also have four mechanics on the event. Fortunately we've had a budget from Isuzu-General Motors since 1995 and Bridgestone supply us with tyres. We run one of the bigger teams, although there are others spending about the same. Some other manufacturers are involved with various competitors, but they probably don't commit the same amount of resources."
Q: What are the major modifications required to make your vehicle competitive in the Safari?
A: "A production Jackaroo weighs around 1,900kg and the engine puts out 158kw. In race trim our vehicle is about 100kg lighter and we tweak the engine up to 220kw. Unlike many other forms of motorsport we don't use a lot of exotic materials because they don't like the vibrations, heat, and general wear and tear you get on the Safari. You have to remember this event has more than 2,500km of competitive stages in extreme conditions so durability is critical. We go for optimum strength with the chassis. The Jackaroo is built to FIA (Federation Internationale de l'Automobile) regulations."
Q: How does the Safari compare with other major international events you've raced in?
A: "This event is the Paris-Dakar of Australia. Every race has its unique aspects, but overall the terrain of the Northern Territory is as interesting and varied as anywhere. Every stage presents a different set of challenges so from a competitor's perspective it's right up there. I think the Safari is on the verge of becoming a much bigger event, both in Australia and internationally, especially since the Northern Territory Government has made a three-year commitment to provide the necessary backing and support. We're going to see more manufacturers get involved, and more overseas competitors."
Q: What is the major attraction for you to compete in these types of endurance off-road events?
A: "The adventure appeals to me, plus our racing is so unpredictable. Everyone lines up at the start of a stage and no one knows exactly where they're going. It's not like rallying where you can go through the course in detail beforehand and you know what to expect. In our races almost every corner is a new adventure. You can have the best equipment, but you can get lost just like anyone else. I've been bogged, stuck, and broken down in some of the most out-of-the-way places you can imagine. Dealing with those situations, and trying to get going again under difficult circumstances is part of the challenge. You can start the day in 11th or 12th position and by sunset you could be leading. That doesn't happen in many other types of motorsport. I like the see-sawing element of it."
Q: How fierce is the rivalry between the competitors?
A: "Everyone likes to win, but there is an enormous respect between everyone taking part in these types of races. You are out there battling against the elements and testing yourself and your equipment to the limit. I've got admiration for anyone who goes in these races. Many of the them are doing it for the love of it and it's not cheap. Even the guys at the front will usually help out another competitor if they're in trouble, or have a problem, so in that sense it's probably a throwback to what most motorsport used to be like. At the end of a day the 'fun-metre' is off the planet. We like to enjoy what we're doing. The party at the end of the Safari is a night to remember."
Q: What is the most unusual experience you have had in your eight Australian Safari starts?
A: "Being locked up by the Police in '88. I still don't know what it was for. Maybe someone put them up to it. I think they did it because they could!"
Q: Describe the most dangerous aspects of these events?
A: "Travelling at 200km/h on dirt and finding something in front of you, like a rock, a stump, or some other object. Visibility is usually only 300m, so if you see something at that distance and you're doing 200km/h you can't stop for it. All you can do is try and miss it."
Q: How do you deal with the heat and extreme conditions when you are behind the wheel?
A: "We drink heaps of water, and usually eat fruit, nuts, and sandwiches. The heat can be incredible. When I raced at Dubai it was 50-degrees. Things like plastic fans can melt away in those conditions."
Q: What memories do you have of competing in the 1998 Paris-Dakar?
A: "We broke down in a 650km stage in the desert. The conditions were terrible. Even the locals didn't go there. The closest town had mud houses, and there were tombstones everywhere. After breaking down we had to wait until the service truck came along and then we drove out the next day. It was actually quite scary because the rally had moved on and all the infrastructure with medical services and doctors had gone. Low-flying aeroplanes were dropping food and water for bike riders who had broken down. When you are in the desert like that everything goes quiet - it seems like you are on the set of one the old Hollywood movies."
Q: When did you first get interested in motorsport?
A: "Going to the drag racing at the old Surfers Paradise Raceway, which is now closed. I was 12 and we used to sneak into the track in the back of the (car) boot. The first time I'd ever been in a traffic jam was getting into the drags at Surfers. A few years later I was an apprentice motor mechanic in Brisbane and I started navigating in rallies. The first rally I did was in Mackay in '77 in an HD Holden - the engine fell over after the mounts broke and the wheels came off."
Q: What motorsport did you do after that?
A: "I worked as a mechanic for Colin Bond's Ford rally team in '79 and '80. He was running Escorts and Cortinas, and then I rallied myself for about five years. In '87 I did the Australian Safari for the first time driving the back-up vehicle for the Mitsubishi Ralliart team. Technically I was in the race, but in those days the cars had to carry all the spares so I was there to help out the lead vehicle. After that I went overseas and worked for the works Mitsubishi Ralliart team. We were based near London and we did most of the big rallies, such as Monte Carlo, Acropolis, and the RAC in Britain. Then I got sick of the cold weather and came back to Australia. I linked up with Isuzu in '93 to drive in the Safari and finished second. It was the start of our relationship."
Q: Apart from winning this year's Safari, what are your other future goals?
A: "I want to be the best in the world. There is a world championship series and I'd love to get the budget to do the whole thing. When I raced at Dubai we were third in the prologue in an Australian-prepared vehicle so with the right backing I think I can be competitive. It's expensive at that level. When I did the Paris-Dakar the top teams spent over $1-million."
Q: What do you do when you are not competing?
A: "We seem to be doing more and more promotional work, which is good. I've just finished a television commercial for Asia, which we did at Stockton Beach north of Newcastle with three Jackaroos. They had an Asian movie star and singer there and we made an MTV film clip."