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Bruce Garland’s famous sense of humour has not deserted him, despite another challenging day on the world’s most gruelling motorsport event, the two-week long Dakar Rally.

Stage Seven saw the competitors move in convoy up the Andes Mountains through an ear-popping height of 4975m, at the top of Argentina’s highest mountain pass. The competitive distance of 220km was run at altitudes of between 3400m and 4000m and should have been reasonably straightforward – but not for the senior Isuzu Motorsports’ crew.

“There are two nuts holding the wheel in our car, the one driving, and the one that came loose today so the wheel disconnected,” says Garland, with a laugh, asserting he has done nothing with mirrors or ladders that could have influenced his luck on the 2013 event.

The veteran offroad racer says he and co-driver Harry Suzuki were making good time when they turned a corner and the wheel let go. From then on, despite a struggle, they were passengers as the Isuzu D-MAX left the road and eventually came to a halt beside a gully, before rolling gently over the edge – in front of a film crew who were obviously waiting there for something to happen!

“The organisers had to re-route a few cars around us while we waited for a truck, and then these great guys in a MAN hooked us up and out, and we were on our way again,” Garland says.

“But the important thing is that we are still going and plenty of others aren’t. And I said to Adrian [Di Lallo] when we got in that the next few days will sort out the truly unbreakable cars – and their crews. It sounds a bit pretentious saying there is no greater test of man and machine, but it is true.”

Di Lallo and co-driver Steve Riley had an event-free run. They rolled into the bivouac ahead of their teammates, with Di Lallo ticking off another day towards his goal of being first rookie home.

Despite today’s issues, Garland and Suzuki (2012 Isuzu D-MAX; car 330) are still holding their own, in 44th outright while Di Lallo and (Red Earth Motorsport, Isuzu D-MAX; car 439) are just behind them, in 45th place overall.

Tonight Australian time, in the final stage before the rest day, the competitors will again be covering a substantial distance – the second longest day of the event. Totalling around 849km, it begins with a 152km liaison section to the start of the timed special stage, which is around 470km long, but broken into two sections with a neutral zone. Then there is a 242km transport stage through to the bivouac. Competitors can expect a typically Argentinean landscape with canyons and cactuses and lots of sand.

This is Garland’s first run at the event since he crashed over a sand dune during the 2011 rally and broke a vertebra. Two months later he had a heart attack, with the team at Melbourne’s MonashHeart carrying out five bypasses. Aside from the lack of sleep, he says he is having no health issues at all, even with the high altitudes he is racing in.

The bivouac is in San Miguel de Tucumán, 1311km north of Buenos Aires. The fifth biggest city in Argentina sits on the slopes of the Aconquija Mountains and the area is known for its culture, and its crops, including sugar cane, rice, tobacco and fruit. The 2013 Dakar Rally finishes in Santiago, Chile, on Sunday, January 20.

Based in Sydney, Australia, Isuzu Motorsports International Off-Road Racing Team is the motor racing operation of Bruce Garland Motorsports and Harry Suzuki, owner of Isuzu Motorsports. Isuzu D-MAX cars built and prepared by Bruce Garland Motorsports and Harry Suzuki have competed and succeeded in both rally and off-road events around the world.

Overall result after seven stages:

1. Stéphane Peterhansel/Jean-Paul Cottret – Mini All4: 16h 23m 43s
2. Nasser Al-Attiyah/Lucas Cruz – Demon Jefferies Buggy: 16h 26m 57s
3. Giniel De Villiers/Dirk Von Zitzewitz – Toyota HiLux: 17h 07m 46s
4. Leonid Novitskiy/Konstantin Zhiltsov – Mini All4: 17h 12m 37s
5. Guerlain Chicherit/Jean-Pierre Garcin – SMG Buggy: 17h 40m 48s
44. Garland/Suzuki – Isuzu D-MAX: 26h 54m 49s
45. Di Lallo/Riley – Isuzu D-MAX: 27h 09m 49s

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Photo: Willy Weyens

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