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The Isuzu D-MAX of Bruce Garland and Harry Suzuki has set the pace in the Auto section at the prologue for the Australasian Safari in Western Australia today.

But the veteran pair are well aware that the real challenges will come over the next seven days when the field of around 100 competitors face over 3600 gruelling kilometres.

Other pace-setters at the prologue were Honda rider, Jacob Smith, who heads the motorbike field, while local rider Heath Young has taken the top spot among the quad bikes.

The 15.84 kilometre prologue stage was held in the Mundaring forest, north east of Perth, and used some of the roads made famous by the World Rally Championship event in Western Australia.

Under beautiful clear skies with a temperature of around 20 degrees, the Safari competitors tackled a range of roads, from fast and flowing, to tight and narrow tracks that kept riders and drivers on their toes.

After finishing 11th outright in this year’s gruelling Dakar Rally, Sydney’s Bruce Garland used his diesel-powered Isuzu to good effect, heading a strong field of four-wheel drives.

He finished four seconds clear of fellow NSW driver Kerry Turley in a Nissan Patrol, with former V8 Supercar driver, Paul Weel, third quickest in his Holden Colorado, a further 12 seconds back.

2008 Australasian Safari auto winner, Steve Riley, was sixth in his Mitsubishi Pajero, and while he was 54 seconds behind Garland, the Victorian knows the real battle starts tomorrow when the event leaves Perth enroute to Geraldton for the first of seven legs.

Jacob Smith gave Honda the perfect start in the Motorbike category, beating home Todd Smith’s KTM by a solitary second. AJ Roberts put his Honda into the top three, 14 seconds off the pace.

Surprisingly, 2007 and 2008 motorbike champ, Ben Grabham, was a lowly 12th in the prologue, nearly a minute and a half behind leader Smith. The KTM rider was two seconds slower than last year’s runner-up, Rod Faggotter, on his factory Yamaha.

Multiple Dakar Rally winner, Josef Machacek, from the Czech Republic, was expected to set the pace right from the outset in the Quad bike class, but he finished just sixth, over two minutes from the lead.

West Australian Heath Young set a cracking pace on his KTM, finishing the 15 kilometre stage over a minute clear of Paul Smith’s CAN AM, with Czech Martin Plechaty third.

John Maragozidis, the 2008 winner, was a disappointing seventh on his Polaris, three minutes and four seconds behind Young. However the South Australian is aware that the prologue stage isn’t really representative of the outback Western Australian conditions that the crews will face once the event heads north.

After leaving Perth on Sunday morning, the Safari will have overnight stops in Geraldton, Mt Magnet, Leonora and Laverton, before finishing in the gold mining capital of Australia, Kalgoorlie, on Saturday, August 8. Competitors will cover over 3600 kilometres of some of the most beautiful (and rugged) terrain that Western Australia has to offer.

1.    Bruce Garland (NSW) / Harry Suzuki (NSW), Isuzu D-MAX, 12m04s
2.    Kerry Turley (NSW) / Naomi Tillett (SA), Nissan GQ Patrol, +4s
3.    Paul Weel (QLD) / Kees Weel (QLD), Holden Colorado, +16s
4.    Des Harrington (VIC) / Richard Harrington (VIC), Nissan Patrol, +31s
5.    Geoff Olholm (QLD) / Haydn Redfern (QLD), Mitsubishi Pajero, +49s
1.    Jacob Smith (NSW), Honda CRF 450X, 11m33s
2.    Todd Smith (WA), KTM 530 EXC, +1s
3.    AJ Roberts (NSW), Honda CRF 450X, +14s
4.    Damien Grabham (NSW), KTM 530 EXC, +18s
5.    Mathew Fish (VIC), KTM 530 EXC, +27s
1.    Heath Young (WA), KTM XL, 11m58s
2.    Paul Smith (VIC), CAN AM Renegade 800 R X, +1m11s
3.    Martin Plechaty (CZ), Borile Bory FM 700 R, +1m40s
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