|Photo: Willy Weyens|
Sydney’s Bruce Garland and Harry Suzuki are looking forward to a good night’s sleep after spending most of Day Four in their Isuzu D-MAX ute for one of the toughest days – so far – of the 2011 Dakar Rally.
Last night’s stage (Australian time) took competitors a total of 761km, from San Salvador de Jujuy, across the mountains to Calama in Chile. First up was a marathon 554km transport section before they actually reached the start of the timed competitive (special) stage, the first in the Atacama Desert. The special stage was 207km.
At the end of it all, the Sydney-based Dakar veterans (Car 322) discovered they had retained 19th place on the road, and are still first in their class.
They left the bivouac at San Salvador de Jujuy at first light to begin their long journey across the Andes Mountain range via the Paso de Jama, a testing 4800m above sea level. But despite the early start, Garland says there were still thousands of spectators lining the roads from the bivouac to the border, giving them the traditional Argentine ‘rock-star’ reception all the way.
“It’s been a long day,” he gasped with suitable emphasis, waiting in line to fill up with diesel after more than 12 hours on the road.
“No heroics today. It was all about survival! There was lots of bulldust and rocks on the stage which could have caused problems, so we just took it gently. A lot of buggies went past us because it was real buggy territory, but we live to fight another day and that’s important. There’s still a long way to go.
“We were up around 5000m above sea level during the transport stage, so it got a bit hard to breathe. Then the stage itself started at an altitude of 3800m, and of course it’s hot and you’re working hard in the car so it was really draining. Both the D-MAX and us were struggling!
“We just took it as steadily as we could. We drank plenty of water and breathed slowly and that seemed to help. I’ve got a bit of a headache now, but it’s not too bad. Other than that, everything is fine. The D-MAX went well, all things considered, and we had no mechanical problems or any other issues.”
While today’s stage involved a border crossing, Garland says the formalities were actually done in the bivouac before they left, with Chilean officials making the journey across the mountains to check everyone’s paperwork.
“They’ve got a special passport stamp for Dakar competitors, with the Dakar logo on it, showing we’ve come into Chile but as competitors. It’s a cool thing to have.”
Last year’s winner, Carlos Sainz, continues to hold the lead in a factory backed VW while Isuzu Motorsports’ nearest rival – the factory backed BMW X3 of Stephan Schott (321) is now in 27th place outright.
Competitors are spending the night at Calama, a city in Chile’s Atacama Desert, situated 2260m above sea level. It is one of the driest cities in the world with average annual rainfall of just 5mm.
Tonight (Australian time), the Isuzu Motorsports crew will continue their run through the Atacama to an overnight halt at Iquique, on the Pacific coast. They will tackle a punishing 432km timed special stage which begins at over 3200m above sea level. It includes a lot of rough ground and sandy passes and finishes with a daunting 2.3km sandy descent towards the ocean and the stage finish.
The 2011 Dakar Rally began with a ceremonial start in Buenos Aires on New Year’s Day and will close there with the podium celebration on January 16, after travelling a total of 9618km of which 5020km is timed competitive sections (13 stages).
This is the third time the legendary endurance race has run in South America after terrorists forced the cancellation of the 2008 event in its traditional destination of Africa.
Garland and Suzuki’s best result was their first attempt in 2009: 11th outright, first ‘amateur’ (non-factory team), first diesel ute and first production chassis car. They were forced to withdraw at the end of Week One last year, after a freak incident in which a spare wheel dislodged and smashed the radiator.
** Follow the team’s progress on the website: <http://www.isuzumotorsports.com>
** Follow the rally on <http://www.dakar.com>
** Tune in to SBS (5.30pm) and Speed TV (8am; 6.30pm) for daily updates (check your local TV guides or <http://www.speedcafe.com.au> for exact on-air times).