What’s your story, Bruce?
I’ve been doing rally since I got my licence, which is 36 years. Back when I started, you didn’t have to wear a helmet and seatbelts were optional.
Tell us a bit about the Dakar Rally.
It’s the biggest, most dangerous motorsport event in the world. I think there have been maybe 50 people killed over the years [it began in 1978]. You’re driving for eight to 10 hours a day and covering around 800km. It costs $17,000 per person just to enter.
How do you prepare for it?
If you don’t have some level of fitness, you won’t last. Doing races here, like the Finke Desert Race and the Australian Safari, is good preparation. From the driving side, you need to find a pace that’s fast and gets you to the finish but doesn’t smash the car too much. But you can’t go too slow or you’ll get stuck in the sand. If you’re weak and ill-prepared, you probably won’t make it past day four – and the event goes for three weeks.
We’re guessing there’s a big mental aspect, too?
The main thing is being ready mentally. I’m married with four kids and what that’s taught me is patience. You’ve gotta get a lot of brownie points, too. My wife says that I have none at the moment.
How many times have you competed in the Dakar?
I’ve been to four but have only finished one. To put it into perspective, I’ve done maybe 20 Australian Safaris and only not finished once or twice.
You fractured a vertebra at this year’s race. Is that the closest call you’ve had?
Yeah. I thought I’d just bruised my back, so I took two Voltaren and two Nurofen then drove the rest of the 30km to the finish. I found out later, at the hospital, that I’d broken one of the bones in my back. They said if I’d crashed again I would’ve been paralysed.
You’re driving through the Atacama Desert for three weeks. What’s the heat situation like?
Some days I’ll drink 10 litres of water. And that’s not enough. The hottest we’ve registered outside was 58˚C for an hour-and-a-half. I don’t know what it was in the cabin but it felt like a sauna most of the time. Plus, there’s no air con because we have to remove it to save weight.
What’s the go with pit stops?
We used to use Gatorade bottles. So if you’re ever lost in the Atacama Desert, don’t drink the orange Gatorade. Now we use a uridome, which is what they use in hospitals. It’s connected to the floor, so we don’t have to stop. But we do need to stop for number two’s.
With the heat and long driving stints, do you ever hallucinate?
I haven’t, but everyone who’s been in it gets nightmares for a few months afterwards. I know Alastair McRae [brother of now-deceased rally icon Colin McRae] would wake up at 2.30am in a cold sweat, screaming, and his wife would have to calm him down. He kept dreaming that he was crawling to the top of a sand dune in the desert and when he looked over the horizon all he could see were more sand dunes ahead.
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