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More than a year’s work, and a fortnight of hard and smart driving has paid off with an extraordinary 11th outright for the Australians contesting the car class on the 2009 Dakar Rally.
 
Sydney’s Bruce Garland and Harry Suzuki (Garland MotorSports) brought their Isuzu D-MAX ute into ninth place on the 14th and final stage of the event, to put them in 11th outright and first diesel ute home.
 
Swedish teammates Pelle Wallentheim and Olle Ohlsson (Tubus Racing) who have had some troubles on the event, also finished strongly, posting 23rd fastest on the 792km stage for a final placing of 44th outright.
 
“We’ve done it and it’s a huge achievement,” says Garland, who admits the initial emotions are relief and exhaustion.
 
“I think less than 10 per cent of the cars did the entire course and ours was one of them, so we are really, really proud of that. It just did not miss a beat. We put a year’s worth of work into the event, so to get both the cars home, with just a few problems for Pelle, that is pretty special.
 
“Obviously Harry and I would have liked to have snuck into the top 10 and we gave it our best shot, but 11th, given everything this event has thrown at us, is a fantastic achievement and I think it will have more of a chance to sink in when we do the final parade and podium tomorrow.
 
“Today’s stage was great. Real rally roads, very fast and flowing, absolutely flat-out, top-speed stuff, with square corners around fields. A great stage and a great way to finish – and the crowds were fantastic. But now all I can think of is a really long, hot shower and a cold beer, and running amok in Buenos Aires tonight with all our boys to celebrate!
 
“The team has done the most amazing job to get Pelle and I here – and so have all our sponsors. Without a lot of hard work by a huge number of people who have supported us and encouraged us in so many ways, this just would not happened. For now, I think we should probably have a beer or two to celebrate – and then a good sleep before tomorrow.”
 
Teammate Pelle Wallentheim was expressing a bit more enthusiasm for the shower and sleep idea, but believed he would manage to find the energy to party a little.
 
While he would have liked to finish higher up the order, Wallentheim has an extra reason to celebrate – he’s in remission after recently beating a rare form of bone and blood cancer that hospitalised him for two years and came close to ending his life. Dakar is the dream that kept him going.
 
“I am very, very tired and I have to say I feel a bit empty, because it is all over. But I think tomorrow, with the parade and podium, the reality of what we have done will be stronger. I have achieved my dream and this is now my first Dakar. Who knows what comes next.
 
“It is a fantastic achievement for the team and particularly for Bruce. We wanted one car in the top 10 and we certainly wanted both to finish – top 20 would have been good. To have 11th for Bruce is amazing. For us, if we had not had so many problems, I think we showed today that we can run near the top 20, so maybe we shall see what happens in the future.”
 
Garland/Suzuki and Wallentheim/Ohlsson have driven the 2009 Dakar in a pair of 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).
 
The Australian/Swedish/Isuzu Dakar mission was first announced in March last year but the planning began in mid-2007 when Garland managed a car for Wallentheim in the Australasian Safari offroad race in outback Western Australia.
 
The D-MAX had its first competitive run in the ‘Condo 750’ (at Easter 2008), a two-day desert race in outback New South Wales, finishing fourth outright. The next test was the eight-day Australasian Safari (August 2008) where the D-MAX finished third outright, both results with Garland and Suzuki in the car.
 
With all the development work done on the prototype, Garland MotorSports built two more D-MAX utes, with the second car for Wallentheim/Ohlsson unveiled for competition at the UAE Desert Challenge (October 2008). The three cars were then shipped to Argentina.
 
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, hence the move to South America.
 
This new event was originally set to be one of the longest Dakars, but of the 9500km total distance that was to be travelled, including 5600km of special competitive stages, just over 1200km of racing had to be scrapped because of various safety concerns. The rally took competitors from Buenos Aires to Valparaiso in Chile and back, via the Andes Mountains and the Atacama Desert, the driest place on earth. The event has also travelled to a height of 4700m, the highest in the rally’s 31-year history.
 
At the top end of the field, victory went to VW with the Touaregs of Giniel de Villiers and Mark Miller finishing first and second, and the Hummer of NASCAR star, Robby Gordon in third.
 
Isuzu results:
 
Stage One:   Garland/Suzuki 51st O/R; Wallentheim/Ohlsson 67th O/R
Stage 14:      Garland/Suzuki 11th O/R; Wallentheim/Ohlsson 44th O/R
 
Looking back at the rally, of close to 500 vehicles (177 in the car class) that left Buenos Aires on January 3, only 276 were ready for a start on the final day, including 92 cars.
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