|SA-Dakar: Australia´s Isuzu Team Garland/Suzuki enjoys Dakar Start Party.|
Australia´s Isuzu Motorsports offroad racing team has been caught up in the excitement as the 2011 Dakar Rally kicked off in central Buenos Aires on Saturday. The Isuzu D-Max of Sydney-based Dakar veterans Bruce Garland and Harry Suzuki is one of 139 cars to make the start. They´re competing in a total field of 406 entries which also includes 170 bikes, 30 quads and 67 trucks.
This is the third time the legendary offroad marathon has been held in South America (after terrorists forced the cancellation of the 2008 event in its traditional home of Africa), and the third time the Isuzu MotorSports team has entered the race. It´s also the third time the Argentine people have turned out en-masse to wish the competitors well.
"It´s just amazing out here," said Garland, speaking as he negotiated his way through crowds that were 10-deep way out into the countryside. "It´s like Oprah in Sydney crossed with World Cup soccer, crossed with an AC-DC concert. They reckon there are over a million people along the road and the crowds are so huge, you´d have to believe it. The best bit is that we are all the stars!
"I told them on the podium that Aussies love Argentina and I got drowned out by the noise! And out on the road, they´re cheering and waving like mad. If you flash your headlights out them they go even crazier. It is an incredible thing to be part of, but we are very mindful of the fact that this is the party before the pain starts!
"Once we get to Victoria, it´s business only. We´re just planning to take things very quietly for the first few days stay on the pace, stay out of trouble and stay ahead of those massive trucks. They´re scary."
Garland admits to a touch of nervousness before the start after a week of problems that included not being able to access the D-Max for five days because it had been locked in customs over the Christmas break due to a wharfies´ strike.
"Now we´re actually on our way and the race is about to start, I´m feeling more relaxed, if that makes sense. The new engine is fantastic, the car seems to be running well, and fingers crossed we will have a good run this year."
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 smashed the radiator.
Ahead of the crews is 9618km of tough territory, of which 5020km is timed competitive sections (13 stages), which include racing at altitudes of up to 5000m, in sand dunes around one kilometre high, and through the world´s driest desert, the Atacama.
Garland describes the South American Dakar as the biggest motorsport challenge in the world, an event that is physically and mentally draining. Ten hours at the wheel each day is not unusual.
The 2011 D-Max is powered by a new version of an already-tweaked 3.0-litre turbo diesel Isuzu engine. The previous version produced approximately 630Nm of Maximum torque and around 192kW of peak power, or an increase of 75 and 60 per cent, respectively, on the standard Isuzu D-Max engine, but Garland says the new engine has more top-end speed.
2011/01/02 | 16:29 CET | ARTICLE: MR/SY/SWANTON