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A hard day’s work amongst the sand dunes has paid off for the Australian Isuzu team, holding firm in 14th place outright on the 2009 Dakar Rally.
 
Bruce Garland and Harry Suzuki and their Isuzu D-MAX ute finished as 15th fastest in the car class – and fastest diesel ute – on a treacherous 12th stage from Fiambala to La Rioja which saw the leading VW Touareg of Carlos Sainz roll into a ravine and out of the event.
 
“That would have to be the hardest day so far, but we were kicking butt out there,” says Garland.
 
“The car was just sensational in the dunes and they were really hard to get through. There were cars getting stuck everywhere.
 
“We got caught behind some cars at one stage, and then we got bogged a couple of times as well and had to get ourselves out, and I think we probably lost an hour or an hour and a half with those problems. And it was about 40 degrees, so it was hard work getting the car jacked up and the ramps underneath and then actually getting the car going again.
 
“I think they shortened the stage just after we went through because so many people were struggling, so they’re giving those cars a derived time for the day.
 
“One dune was so long and so hard, that it took us more than 10 minutes to get a straight run happening. They’re like mountain ranges but the sand is really soft and hard to get through.”
 
At time of writing, Garland’s Swedish teammates Pelle Wallentheim and Olle Ohlsson were still making their way to the overnight camp. Garland understood they had landed hard over a dune and done some damage to the car and were then further delayed by changes to the stage. Neither of the crew was hurt in the incident.
 
At the head of the car class, it was a case of musical chairs, with VW’s Giniel De Villiers taking over the lead after Carlos Sainz came unstuck.
 
De Villiers won the stage ahead of VW teammate Mark Miller, with Robby Gordon and his Hummer in third. In outright standings, it is the same order.
 
Sainz had dominated the event with six stage wins out of 10 until today’s roll. While he and the car could have continued, his co-driver (navigator) suffered a broken shoulder and could not go on.
 
Today’s stage was originally a total of 518km with a special stage of 253km, but race organisers were forced to reduce it by 33km because the event would have taken competitors across several important archaeological sites.
 
This is the fifth stage to be reduced in distance since the rally started in Buenos Aires on January 3, with Wednesday’s stage cancelled all together – for safety reasons – because of a bad weather forecast.

Tomorrow’s stage takes competitors 753km from La Rioja to Cordoba, with a competitive special stage of 545km. From there, it is just one more stage (total 792km) to the finish line in Buenos Aires.
 
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 rally organisers, hence the move to South America.
 
The new event will take competitors 9500km (including 5600km of special stages) 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 has travelled to a height of 4700m, the highest in the rally’s 31-year history.
 
Garland/Suzuki and Wallentheim/Ohlsson are driving two Isuzu D-Max utes, hand-built in Garland’s Sydney workshop. They put out 160kW of power (up 33 per cent on the standard vehicle) and 500Nm of torque (@2000rpm; up 39 per cent).
 
Their results so far:
 
Day One:        Garland/Suzuki 51st O/R; Wallentheim/Ohlsson 67th O/R
Day 12:           Garland/Suzuki 14th O/R; Wallentheim/Ohlsson 42nd O/R
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