Interview: Bruce Garland and Harry Suzuki

Isuzu’s intrepid off-road racing duo recounts more than two decades of tough love.

How and when did your respective careers in motorsports begin?

BRUCE: I got started as a novice rally driver in a Ford Escort back in 1975, competing in the Queensland state rally championship. I went on from there to work in the business with guys like Colin Bond and Ralliart boss Bob Riley, engineering and building rally cars and off-road cars, and eventually started off-road racing myself. My first off-road event was the Finke Desert Race in 1990.

HARRY: I started racing motorbikes when I was 15, when I was still living in Japan. I did motocross events for years.

When did the two of you first pair up; was it love at first sight?

HARRY: We met in 1989. I had actually been in Australia servicing for some friends who did the Safari. They had an Isuzu, but they didn’t finish the event. They left it here ready for the next year and I came back looking for someone to do the job, and found Bruce. I don’t think it was love, no, but he is very good at what he does!

BRUCE: I helped Harry rebuild the car, and then we stayed in touch after that. The first event we did together was the 1993 Safari and we had a bit of a setback. We ran over the gas pipeline that runs from Moomba to Port Augusta and I jumped it, but the car jumped out of four-wheel drive when it landed and damaged the selector. I couldn’t get it back in high range so we drove in low range for 650km; so that’s like driving all the way from Sydney to Coffs Harbour in second gear, which was… mentally challenging. We lost about an hour and 20 minutes to the leaders, but we caught up and I think ended up losing the race by five minutes — we came second and won our class.

Love? Well, I think we had a good working relationship right from when Harry first came to Australia and he was working for a mate of mine. He could hardly speak any English. Then we worked together building Metro Cabs for a few years and Harry was getting more involved with Isuzu in Japan, and it all went from there. It’s actually a long, complicated story as to how it all got started, but it obviously did — and it worked!

What’s the toughest off-road racing challenge you’ve ever faced?

BRUCE: Dakar 2009, because it was just relentlessly tough and we didn’t know what was coming. No one on that event knew what was coming, because it was all new for everyone, but it was our first time. [Dakar] is head and shoulders above the difficulty of any other event.

HARRY: Round Australia, 1998. So long — 21 days in the car. Dakar is tough too, but it’s different. It’s also hard, but not so long. Round Australia we did nearly 1000 kays every day, and the transports were boring. Dakar is hard, but you can enjoy it — except when you have to dig more!

You’ve got five outright Australian Safari wins under your belt, as well as the 1998 Round Australia. What would you put that success down to?

BRUCE: Obsessive compulsive disorder! Success is mostly all about what you do before the event, all the preparation, and then you have to have the mental stamina too, for the preparation and the racing. I think it probably is obsessive — you might have to talk to my therapist! Once I’ve decided to do an event, the focus is just on that. Anything that does not involve getting to the start of the race and winning it is just a distraction. I know it’s probably a bad thing to be like that, but it’s part of what gets you the result.

HARRY: It’s a combination, I think. The most important part is me, of course (laughs), but Isuzu, Bruce, the mechanics — and me. If one piece is missing, it doesn’t work

Partnerships are never perfect. Any particular traits that drive either one of you mad?

BRUCE: When Harry does something wrong, he doesn’t say anything — but that’s a typical Japanese response. He goes Japanese; he goes quiet, if something goes wrong or is difficult. That’s probably the only thing. Otherwise it’s a good relationship.

A lot of drivers think they’re perfect, so if the navigator makes a mistake, they just abuse them. But the navigator has to deal with the driver’s mistakes — he could get hurt, or if I get bogged again and again, he has to get out and help dig it out, so if he makes a mistake I can’t get angry. It’s just human, so you just think ‘well, how do we get over it and not make that mistake again’ because it’s gone, you know? It could have cost you the rally, but you’ve got to get over it, otherwise you’ll just distract yourself and you won’t get to the finish.

Sure, we do get mad at each other and we might have a spit, but you get it off your chest and get on with it.

HARRY: Pissing in the seat! But he says he is working on new technology so he doesn’t have to do that. No, nothing. You just don’t process it, because if you do, you get cranky. Just ignore him, don’t process it. You have to keep working together.

Harry, it must take a different type to sit by and navigate while someone else controls the vehicle. Ever wish you could take the wheel?

HARRY: If I drove, Bruce wouldn’t have a job! He’s not a better driver than me, but he’s much better in the dust. He’s got superman glasses!

Favourite 4X4 destination in Australia?

BRUCE: Aside from rallies, I don’t do much, but around Alice Springs, the MacDonnell Ranges. That’s pretty amazing country.

HARRY: Stockton Beach [NSW]. It’s fun when we test there.

BRUCE: But if he is in his car, he won’t let the tyres down, and it takes him forever to get up and down the dunes!

This article originally appeared in 4X4 Australia December 2010 issue.

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