The Australian/Swedish Isuzu Rally Team is primed and ready for a start in the 2009 Dakar (Argentina) Rally.
Aussies Bruce Garland and Harry Suzuki and Swedes Pelle Wallentheim and Olle Ohlsson and their two Isuzu D-Max utes (numbers 362 and 447 respectively) are facing 14 days of competition over nearly 6000km when the new event kicks off with a ceremonial start on the evening of January 2 in Buenos Aires (approx 12 hours behind Australia).
A total of 539 teams from 49 countries are contesting the event, including 188 ‘cars’, which is the division the two Garland-built Isuzus are entered in. They will travel from Buenos Aires to Valparaiso in Chile and back, via the Andes Mountains and the Atacama Desert, said to be the driest place on earth. The event will travel to a height of 4700m, the highest in the rally’s history.
“Dakar is the biggest, hardest, toughest, most dangerous race in the world,” says Garland.
“Nothing comes close to it. It’s the Mt Everest of rally and off-road, of all motorsport, really. If you can succeed in that, it’s a huge achievement.
“It’s always been that way during the years the event has been run in Africa. The difference is, no-one has ever raced like this in Argentina and Chile before, so it will be a more level playing field for us than it would have been in Africa.”
Originally known as the Paris-Dakar, the Dakar Rally has been staged in Africa since 1978, but last year’s event was cancelled on the eve of the start after terrorists killed seven people in the area and made direct threats to the organisers of the rally, hence the move to South America.
The Isuzu team (Garland MotorSports and Tubus Racing) has been in Argentina since mid-December, preparing for the event. The vehicles have been tested at 3800m to allow Isuzu engineers to re-tune the engines to work more efficiently at high altitudes.
“We unloaded everything in Buenos Aires, then drove about 1100km to Mendoza, then started climbing into the mountains near the Chilean border to test the cars – and ourselves,” Garland says.
“Working at this altitude is difficult – you feel the pressure in your head and you lose concentration and focus. If you try to do something too quickly, it’s very hard to breathe and your reaction times drop away, but we’ve had a lot of advice from the people at Isuzu Argentina which has really helped us acclimatise.
“We’ve learned to drink a lot more water, not just because of the heat but also because it helps with the altitude issues, so we’re doing that and we feel a lot more comfortable.
“But we know we will be getting up as high as 4700m and spending several hours at that height and that’s when any mechanical issues, or a flat tyre, will present us with real problems. We’ve sourced some oxygen to take with us, just in case.”
Garland and Wallentheim are currently seeded 62nd and 147th respectively but, having sized up the competition around them, are confident they will be re-seeded higher in the order after the first day or two.
That’s once things get serious though … which is not just yet. Because they strongly believe in a balance between work and play, in typical  style they held a huge New Years Eve party complete with fireworks (“the locals thoughts they were in Baghdad!”). Then it was final documentation and vehicle scrutineering late on New Year’s Day.
“There were about 200,000 people there. It was just amazing. The Argentinians are just so excited about the event. It’s a great atmosphere.”
The ceremonial start is on Friday evening and the team has moved from its earlier headquarters on the BA outskirts, into town, to make things easier for Saturday’s start. In Australia, SBS TV will show daily highlights of the event from Sunday, January 4 to Monday, January 19, at 6pm.
Stage 1: Saturday, January 3
Buenos Aires – Santa Rosa
Competition (special stage) = 371km; Total distance: 733km.
Many have heard of La Pampa, where men are reputed to be “rough, but always courteous”. This first stage will provide the opportunity to discover the length of these vast plains. Dakar competitors have never faced such a long special. With over 400km of rolling routes, perhaps the fastest on the program, this will constitute a real warm-up.
Stage 2: Sunday, January 4
Santa Rosa – Puerto Madryn
Competition (special stage) = 237km; Total distance: 837km.
The longest stage of the rally will not necessarily be the most difficult. However, it should still be approached with vigilance and, above all, with rally equipment that works. After a rapid first part of the special, there’s a foretaste of the sand to come. On the off-roads of this stage, crews will need to pay careful attention to their course. The more distracted will begin to “turn in circles”.
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