The Australian Isuzu D-MAX team are happy to have made it to the end of  Day Five of the 2011 Dakar Rally, describing the stage as the road to hell.

Sydney-based Dakar veterans Bruce Garland and Harry Suzuki (Car 322) have slipped back to 22nd, from their previous spot of 19th place on the road, but they say they are among the lucky ones: they made it through.

“There’s absolute carnage out there – a lot of people just won’t be continuing after what we went through today,” Garland says.

“This was the first day the trucks ran with the cars and it’s just like a tornado when they come through. They stir up the dust and you can’t see anything – we missed a waypoint reference in the dust [crews must be registered passing these ‘checkpoints’ or be disqualified] and lost time searching for it. And if you’re unlucky enough to break down and you don’t get way off the track, you can get run over because no-one can see you.”

The Isuzu D-MAX ute suffered steering problems in the stage, which the crew managed to fix, then 30km from the end they landed very heavily off a sanddune and Garland damaged his back.

“I’m sore, very sore, but I’m sure it’s nothing that some painkillers and a teaspoon of cement won’t fix! I’ve had hard landings before – plenty of them – but nothing quite like that one.

“It was just really, really rough out there – absolute car-breaking stuff. Badly eroded with big chunks of rock and huge wash-outs, so you just bounced from rock to rock. I know what the road to hell looks like because I have just driven it! There were broken cars and bikes everywhere.”

While Garland went to seek treatment from the medical crew travelling with the event, the four-man service crew started what promises to be a long night, making sure the D-MAX is race-ready for tomorrow.

Last night’s stage (Australian time) took competitors a total of 459km, from Calama, their first stop in Chile, through another competitive stage in the Atacama Desert and on to the coastal city of Iquique.

Competitors started at over 3200m above sea level and descended to under 1000m at the first check point (202km into the stage) before climbing again through an area of sand at the finish to around 1200m. Stony ground was prevalent in the early kilometres and this gave way to soil and sand as the special progressed.

After yesterday’s marathon 554km transport section, today’s was easy: just 36km before they started the competitive stage (423km) which finished at the overnight stop after a hairy descent through sand to the ocean.

Last year’s winner, Carlos Sainz, continues to hold the lead in a factory backed VW while Isuzu Motorsports’ nearest rival – one of the BMW X3s from the mega-million-dollar BMW factory team, driven by Stephan Schott (321) – is still trailing Garland and Suzuki, and now in 26th place outright.

Competitors are spending the night at Iquique, west of the Atacama desert and right on the coast of the Pacific Ocean. Its duty-free commercial port and nearby copper mining facilities are its major commercial attractions, although it has been decimated by earthquake activity on several occasions in the past.

Tonight (Australian time), the Isuzu Motorsports crew will tackle a 456km timed special stage between Iquique and Arica in the northernmost extremities of Chile. This is the last Chilean town before the border with Peru and the route includes numerous sand dunes and thick, choking bulldust – known as fesh-fesh in Africa and ‘guadal’ in South America.
The 2011 Dakar Rally began with a ceremonial start in Buenos Aires on New Year’s Day and will close there with the podium celebration on January 16, after travelling a total of 9618km of which 5020km is timed competitive sections (13 stages).

This is the third time the legendary endurance race has run in South America after terrorists forced the cancellation of the 2008 event in its traditional destination of Africa.

Garland and Suzuki’s best result was their first attempt in 2009: 11th outright, first ‘amateur’ (non-factory team), first diesel ute and first production chassis car. They were forced to withdraw at the end of Week One last year, after a freak incident in which a spare wheel dislodged and smashed the radiator.

(provisional at time of writing)

1. Carlos Sainz/Lucas Cruz Senra               VW Race Touareg        15h 45m 48s
2. Stéphane Peterhansel/J-P Cottret            BMW X3 CC                15h 48m 14s
3. Nasser Al-Attiyah/Timo Gottschalk           VW Race Touareg        15h 48m 21s
4. Giniel de Villiers/Dirk von Zitzewitz           VW Race Touareg        16h 07m 08s
5. Kryzsztof Holowczyc/J-M Fortin                BMW X3 CC                16h 33m 41s

22. Bruce Garland/Harry Suzuki                   Isuzu D-MAX                 21h 41m 03s
26. Stephan Schott/Holm Schmidt                BMW X3 CC                 23h 18m 26s

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