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Australia’s Bruce Garland and Harry Suzuki and their Isuzu D-Max ute are now in 20th outright in the 2009 Dakar Rally (Argentina-Chile) after a shortened stage six.
 
The Australians finished the day in 21st place, while their Swedish teammates Pelle Wallentheim and Olle Ohlsson (Tubus Racing) finished the stage in 30th, an impressive drive after starting at position 121.
 
They are now 57th outright. It’s a huge improvement in one day given they had started a long way behind the Australians because they got caught in the chaos that was Stage Five – snow, hail, a flooded creek and lengthy delays that resulted in the stage being halted. All the latecomers then effectively ‘transported’ the rest of the stage, rather than completing it under full competition conditions. They received a derived time, rather than a true result against the clock.
 
“We started the day in the section of sand dunes that we had travelled over on Day Five,” says Garland.
 
“Many of the vehicles that had got stuck there were still there, so you had to be extra careful getting through that section. Former world rally championship driver Alister McRae was one of the ones who got stuck late at night, but he waited out there till daybreak, then drove in to the start control, got his starting position and drove straight out again for today’s stage!”
 
Garland says he and Suzuki were running as high as 13th on the road within the first five minutes on the dunes, but then made an uncharacteristic mistake that the Aussie offroad star is still kicking himself about.
 
“We got stuck! We hadn’t let the tyres down properly and we followed someone else’s tracks and we got stuck, so we lost about 20 minutes getting ourselves out of that mess, but the rest of the stage was flat, flowing sandy stuff. It was boring, but it was fairly quick, so all in all it was quite a good day.”
 
Teammates Pelle Wallentheim and Olle Ohlsson are also describing Stage Six as a good day, after the dramas of Day Four (broken diff and axle) and Day Five (leaking radiator as well as the event problems mentioned earlier).
 
“We’re fine but we’re tired. We will sleep very well tonight, I think, because we did not have much sleep the last two nights,” Wallentheim says.
 
“This rally I seem to have a good day, then a bad day, then another good day. Then I have two bad days – but today was definitely a good one. You have a bad one and you have to start behind so many cars and pass them again.
 
“Today I started almost at the very end of the field and now I am up closer to where I want to be, so it’s much better. I think we passed about 60 cars today, so tomorrow we will have a much better start on the road.”
 
Wallentheim says they took it fairly cautiously today, even though they were able to make up so much time.
 
“It’s a good feeling to pass all these cars. It’s fun to know that you are doing it right, that they are getting stuck in the sanddunes but you can sail through because you are doing it right.
 
“But let’s not be silly about it. This rally is very tough, much tougher than I thought, even though I knew it would be very, very hard, and it does make you tired because you have to work hard.
 
”For instance, we missed several way points in the sand dunes today because we got a bit lost, so we lost time turning around and going back to go past them properly, because if you miss them, you get a time penalty and we don’t need to lose any more time.”
 
What certainly helped improve the situation for both Isuzu drivers was the fact that organisers decided to start the trucks an hour after the cars. Previously, the two classes had been starting together, depending on their finishing times the day before.
 
“That just made it so much better,” says Garland, “because they had been carving up the tracks so badly, and because they were so fast, it was really dangerous. There have already been some instances where they have ploughed into the backs of cars, and yesterday it happened at least once and both the car and the truck burned to the ground!
 
“So both Pelle and I were pleased to have them behind us and hope it stays that way from now on.”
 
Garland says the crowds continue to line the route in their thousands, and greet them when they arrive at the overnight stop: “It’s incredible how many people are coming to see us. We all feel like rock stars!”
 
At the front end of the pack, there was a shock move today when previous event leader Nasser Al Attiyah was excluded from the rally for missing nine of the mandatory ‘way’ points [like a check points] that Wallentheim mentioned.
 
The BMW driver, who won the first and third stages and led the field in outright terms by more than seven minutes, was having radiator problems and decided to avoid the section of sanddunes because of the risk of overheating and engine damage. Making that call meant he missed the way points which meant automatic exclusion.
VW’s Giniel De Villiers, who was second on the day, was promoted to stage winner and inherited the overall lead ahead of his teammates Carlos Sainz and Mark Miller. Nine-time Dakar winner Stéphane Peterhansel (Mitsubishi) is in fifth.

Today’s stage was shortened from 394km to 178km after just 230 of the 410 vehicles involved made the connection after the punishing fifth stage on Wednesday which also witnessed the withdrawal of more than 30 vehicles. A flooded river ford also meant the stage had to be trimmed.

Originally known as the Paris-Dakar, the Dakar Rally has been staged in Africa since 1978. However last year’s event was cancelled on the eve of the start after terrorists killed seven people in the region and made direct threats to the organisers of the rally, hence the move to South America.

 The new event is taking competitors 9500km (including 5600km of special stages) from Buenos Aires to Valparaiso in Chile and back (January 3-17), via the Andes Mountains and the Atacama Desert, said to be the driest place on earth. The event will travel 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 on Day Six show just how far they have moved through the field after finishing 51st (Garland/Suzuki) and 67th (Wallentheim/Ohlsson) on Day One.
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