Rock slows Isuzu team in Dakar Rally
- 11th January 2010, 12:28pm
After the official rest day, Swedish duo Pelle Wallentheim and Olle Ohlsson were back in Chile’s Atacama Desert today, for the eighth stage from Antofagasta to Copiapó, the fourth longest special (competitive) stage of the gruelling event.
They had travelled less than 50km of the 472km when they encountered a rock that ripped out a front and rear tyre. It cost them 50 minutes.
“We only had two spares, so once we had changed the wheels we made the decision to wait for the service truck and get two more spares before we tackled the rest of the stage,” said Wallentheim.
“It was just too rocky to go on without spares. So by the time we left, we were at the tail end of all the cars and we had a lot of work to catch up. Finally at the end of the stage, it was sand dunes.
“We like sand dunes, the D-MAX likes sand dunes. We’re good in them!” he laughed, saying the Tubus Racing pair had gained 16 places in the dunes while others faltered around them, finishing the day in 28th place to be 28th outright (correct at time of writing).
Their Australian colleagues, Bruce Garland and Harry Suzuki are no longer contesting the rally, after being forced out late last week when a freak accident smashed the radiator, causing the engine to overheat. Because the Australians left the rally route to reach camp safely, they were excluded.
Garland took control of the Garland MotorSports/Tubus Racing team during yesterday’s ‘rest day’, as they gave the remaining Isuzu a full overhaul and repaired the damage caused by Wallentheim’s ‘nosedive’ on the seventh stage. But after the work was done, all the team members were able to unwind in readiness for the second half of the event.
“We had a surf in the Pacific Ocean and then went to one of the local eateries for a meal of sea slug and salad. It was a funny colour but very tasty – sort of a cross between porcupine and platypus!” Garland said, hurriedly admitting he had never eaten either of them.
Tomorrow (Monday night), crews will tackle the ninth special stage between Copiapó and La Serena. It has been set down in the official program as a total distance of 547km with a special stage of 338km, but there is talk it will be reduced (to 170.25km) because of ongoing fog problems in the area.
This is the last special stage in the Atacama Desert and event officials suggest this could be the last of the very difficult technical stages in this year’s event.
At the front end of the field, Stéphane Peterhansel (BMW) took the stage win with Carlos Sainz and Mark Miller, both in VW Touaregs, behind him. In outright terms, however, the glory continues to belong to the VW Touareg trio of Sainz, Al-Attiyah and Mark Miller. Peterhansel is in fourth, with defending champion Giniel De Villiers in ninth. American NASCAR star Robby Gordon (Hummer) who was third last year behind De Villiers and Miller, remains in 10th.
Only 216 vehicles started the eighth stage, of the 362 vehicles which left Buenos Aires on New Year’s Day. There are two more stages in Chile before the cavalcade turns east to return to Argentina for the last four stages and the official finish in BA on January 17.
Wallentheim and Ohlsson are driving an Isuzu D-MAX 4x4 ute, built in Garland’s Sydney backyard. The standard 3.0-litre turbo-diesel production engine has been slightly tweaked for better performance, especially for the high altitude sections of the event. It has maximum torque of 600Nm – up 66 per cent on the standard roadgoing D-MAX ute – and peak power of 180kW, which is 50 per cent more than the standard vehicle. They are competing in Class T1.2, which is modified 4WD diesel.
In 2009, the Swedes finished 44th outright. Their Australian colleagues had finished 11th outright and were first ‘amateur’ (non-factory team) home. They also claimed bragging rights as first diesel ute and first production chassis car. The Swedish duo is now chasing those honours for the Isuzu team.
The Dakar Rally is the world’s premier off-road endurance competition. First staged in 1979, it was traditionally run in Europe and Africa, but moved to South America in 2009 because of safety concerns. The 2008 race – the last to be held in Africa – was cancelled on the eve of the start after the deaths of four French tourists. Their killers had links to the Al Qaeda terrorist network and threatened Dakar Rally organisers and competitors.
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