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It was the day of the dunes for the Australian and Swedish Isuzu team, in Day 10 of the 2009 Dakar Rally, being run in Argentina and Chile.
 
Today’s stage was set to be the longest of the rally at 666km, but nearly 200km in the middle was lopped off. Organisers believed that certain sections were not challenging enough and should be avoided so teams would have more time to tackle the tricky dunes. Then the now-476km stage started nearly three hours late because of thick fog.
 
That presented enough problems for the competitors, but the real issue was safety – the observation teams’ helicopters could not get off the ground.
 
Service vehicles remained at the Copiapó bivouac while the competitors eventually headed out for a loop around the Atacama Desert, with the stage including 100km of dunes (some close to one kilometre in height).
 
“The irony is that this is supposed to be the driest place on the planet, and yet we had dampness on the windscreen,” says Garland, who’s now in 16th outright after finishing the stage as 22nd quickest.
 
“But it was only fog, not rain, so it didn’t affect the surface. It was quite a tough stage so we had another day of steady driving rather than all-out racing. Guys around us were getting lost but Harry did a great job and we didn’t have any problems with navigation.
 
“The only real issue was getting stuck in the dunes at one point. Then this spectator came over and pulled the valve out of the tube, which let the tyre down too much, so we lost a bit of time there.
 
“He was just trying to help, but of course he couldn’t speak English and I don’t speak much Chile, so there was a bit of a communication problem there, but it didn’t cost us too much time.”
 
Garland and Suzuki did the entire 100km stretch of dunes at the end of the stage but teammates Pelle Wallentheim and Olle Ohlsson missed out, because the last 40km of the dune section was cancelled as darkness fell – and they feel cheated! At time of writing, their position had not yet been finalised.
 
“Today was the easiest stage, one of the easiest. Don’t listen to Bruce!” Wallentheim laughs, admitting he feels very fresh after a marathon sleep the night before in the wake of a demanding ninth stage.
 
“We love the sand dunes. We’re not afraid – we’re having fun! Other people try to go around them, but we just go through them and over them, and we pass lots of people when we do. The D-MAX just loves sand dunes. We want more of them and we were very disappointed when they cancelled that part.
 
“We did lose some time, about half an hour, with some problems with brakes and with power, but we were able to fix that and we have made up a lot of places.”
 
Tomorrow’s stage – Copiapó to Fiambala (in Catamarca province, 1520m above sea level) – is 680km in total, and was to include a 215km special stage, but because heavy fog has been forecast for the route, organisers have decided to cancel the competition section and participants will simply transport the whole way, rather than race against the clock.
 
It will certainly give them some time for sight-seeing as this stage takes them back towards Argentina through the San Francisco Pass at 4700m. However, they won’t have time to talk about it that night – the service trucks are bypassing this stop to head towards the bivouac for the following stage. All competitors will be doing their own servicing tomorrow night, hoping they are carrying the spares they need.
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