Two months before the Dakar
The countdown has started: two months from now, Volkswagen will be contesting the Dakar Rally
. When the five Race Touareg 2 cars with their driver pairings, Jutta Kleinschmidt / Fabrizia Pons, Carlos Sainz / Andreas Schulz, Bruno Saby /
Michel Périn, Giniel de Villiers / Tina Thörner and Mark Miller / Dirk von Zitzewitz, move across the starting ramp on 31 December, the Volkswagen works team – apart from extensive logistical preparations – will have completed an intensive testing and developing programme.
Since the 2005 Dakar Rally, in which Volkswagen was the first automotive manufacturer to have clinched a podium place with a diesel-powered vehicle, the team headed by Volkswagen Motorsport
Director Kris Nissen has not taken a single break: starting as early as in February, the Race Touareg was subjected to continuous development in seven intensive test drives covering a total of 41 days on the course. Parallel to these testing activities, Volkswagen with its French duo, Bruno Saby / Michel Périn, after three victories in four runnings, clinched the FIA Marathon Rally World Cup title. Last weekend (21-23 October) the new Race Touareg 2 was tested for the first time in competitive conditions at the Rally Baja Portalegre in Portugal.
“Since last year's Dakar Rally, we have been preparing intensively for the next ‘Dakar'. The focal areas are engineering, logistics and the team – and in all of these we have achieved improvements,“ explains Kris Nissen, Volkswagen Motorsport Director. “The Dakar Rally is a unique competition in every respect, which makes maximum demands on both people and material – and over an unusually long period of time at that. Our extensive tests – and particularly our participation in the rallies – have prepared us for these demands
.“ Now the members of the Volkswagen team have started counting the days because as early as on 18 December, the date of the team's official departure from Wolfsburg, the squad will be heading for Lisbon, the starting ‘Dakar's' starting location.
Morocco and Tunisia offer perfect terrain for test drives
Unlike on a closed-road course, where racing situations are relatively easy to simulate, marathon rally tests are not only very complex but – taking up to two or three weeks – much longer. Finding the perfect conditions for a marathon rally test in densely populated Europe is difficult. Short functional tests are performed in Germany or Southern France, longer test drives exclusively in Africa. “Most of our tests are conducted in the region around Erfoud in Morocco,“ says Gérard Zyzik, Head of the Volkswagen Test Team, who organises the entire test runs – from the selection of the track, via the work schedules of the mechanics to on-site technical support and documentation of the results. “Morocco offers very good conditions for trying out new parts because the hard soil subjects the material to extreme stress and provides important findings as to whether or not new components will survive a marathon rally without damage. In addition, Morocco offers an array of different tracks and terrain, including runs across dunes. In July, we tested the new chassis developments for six days in the region around Douz in Tunisia because that was the only place where we found the crucial camel grass stretches.“
Depending on the respective programme and number of test vehicles, between 20 and 50 team members are involved in the tests. For the first trial of the latest development stage of the successful Race Touareg in August, the Volkswagen works team travelled to Morocco with three test vehicles and a total of 48 team members. “In addition to the mechanics, these included specialists for engine, engine electronics and dampers, and of course a physician and a physiotherapist to attend to the drivers and co-drivers,“ explains Volkswagen's Chief Engineer, Eduard Weidl. The work of testing is split between the five works drivers, Jutta Kleinschmidt, Mark Miller, Bruno Saby, Carlos Sainz and Giniel de Villiers and their co-drivers. Additional test drivers have not been signed.
One test car is accompanied to the test site by one service truck, which transports spare parts and tools. For two test cars and more, there are two service trucks, several service Tourag vehicles and a semi-trailer. “For the first test of a further development stage of the Touareg, we usually take along an additional race truck with a lathe and a milling machine, to be as flexible as possible on location,“ says Eduard Weidl.
One test lap covers 300 kilometres
While in tests on closed-road courses the racing car returns to the pit after a few minutes, even as much as a test drive for off-road rallies amounts to a true marathon challenge. “One test lap in Morocco covers a distance of 300 kilometres, the car is out for three hours per lap. We manage to complete a maximum of two laps per day,“ explains Gérard Zyzik. This not only requires extremely detailed planning but a sophisticated safety system, as well, because the drivers and co-drivers are out at competition-level speed in sparsely populated regions. “We always have a helicopter with a doctor, mechanics as well as tools and spare parts on duty,“ says Eduard Weidl. The helicopter flies to specific locations of the course. In addition, the vehicle can be tracked at all times via a radio-based locating system. Every five seconds, a signal is sent providing information about the Race Touareg's position and speed.
Exact test plan specifies tasks and running times
“Before each test we work out an exact plan,“ explains Gérard Zyzik. “Depending on the current results of rally competitions as well as on the design of new parts, we define the testing objectives for the tyres, electrical system, engine, chassis, steering, damper or the drive line as well as determining which components need to be subjected to endurance tests. Areas which do not influence each other can be tested simultaneously in one run. In addition, new parts can be compared with proven components installed in a reference car in a so-called back-to-back-test.“
Yet even the most intensive testing programme does not eliminate the need for running the cars in competitions. “The nearly 9000 competition kilometres we covered in the Marathon Rally World Cup this season provided us with highly varied track and weather conditions. In addition, rally competitions put different demands on the cars,” says Zyzik. “Because external influences, such as a car in front which you follow closely, cannot be simulated in the test.“ All the more important is the combination of tests and competitions to be well prepared for the imponderables of the 2006 Dakar Rally, which leads through six countries over a distance of nearly 10,000 kilometres for the period of 16 days.
Press Release Volkswagen Motorsport