“This ‘Dakar' will be very hard”
A huge challenge awaits Giniel de Villiers (South Africa) and his German co-driver Dirk von Zitzewitz: Fifteen stages over 9,200 kilometres – including 5,736 stage kilometres – make up the 30th running of the Dakar Rally. "I'm looking forward
to every single day of the rally, and especially the long stages in Africa,” explains von Zitzewitz, who feverishly awaits the approaching start on 5 January in the Portuguese capital Lisbon. Alongside de Villiers/von Zitzewitz in the Volkswagen factory line-up are the Race Touareg of Carlos Sainz und Michel Périn (Spain/France), Mark Miller and Ralph Pitchford (USA/South Africa) and Dieter Depping and Timo Gottschalk (Germany).
"The organisers have put together a very demanding route for the Dakar Rally's 30th anniversary,” explains Giniel de Villiers, who finished second in 2006 with a Volkswagen Race Touareg and in doing so recorded the best ever position for a diesel vehicle in the desert classic. "With around 5,700 stage kilometres the length of the competition is considerably longer than in previous years. Also, with eight stages the percentage of the route in Mauritania is very high, and, as a rule, the toughest stages with huge amounts of sand are encountered there.”
Whoever misses the ferry has a serious problem
"The first two stages are more of a warm-up played out in front of the Portuguese and Spanish rally fans,” says the 35-year old South African, who contests his sixth "Dakar” in 2008. "However, you shouldn't lose any time on the two opening stages. Especially on the second, as a long delay here can have fatal consequences since whoever misses the ferry to Africa has a serious problem.”
The teams set foot on dry land again in Nador in Morocco on 7 January. "The first African stage is very long at 372 kilometres,” explains co-river Dirk von Zitzewitz.
"The danger of getting a puncture on one of the first two hard Moroccan stages is extremely high.” The teams cross the first dunes on the fifth stage from Ouarzazate to Guelmim. The 39-year old professional co-driver from North Germany believes that, "The following day with the start in Guelmim will certainly be very picturesque because the route runs along the beach for about 25 kilometres. Unfortunately we don't have much time to enjoy this picturesque countryside.”
However the decisive stages – Dirk von Zitzewitz and Giniel de Villiers agree on this – will be driven in Mauritania. "Awaiting us after we cross the border to Mauritania between Smara and Atar on 11 January are a mix of camel grass tracks, flat and featureless desert which makes orientation difficult and sand dunes at the end. At 619 kilometres this is the longest day of the complete ‘Dakar' and also the first part of the marathon stage so that no service is allowed by the teams in the evening.”
Feature stages through the sand dunes mountains of Mauritania
"The key stages of the Dakar Rally, our team mates and the competition await us when we leave Atar,” assesses Dirk von Zitzewitz. "The route runs from Atar to Nouakchott – where the rest day is – and then via Nouadhibou to Atar through many regions of sand dunes. It's very easy to lose a lot of time here. As a rule the stage following the rest day is particularly hard. The following stage from Nouadhibou to Atar was driven for the last time in 1994 and was the scene of drama after drama at that time as many teams were bogged down in the sand mountains till well into the night.”
Giniel de Villiers adds: "The second marathon stage runs from Atar to Tidjikja and then on to Kiffa. With the exception of the support offered by the Race Trucks we must fend for ourselves. Awaiting us on these days is a series of challenging off-road tracks with a larger percentage of stones than on the previous days. Here, the danger of getting a puncture is high again.” To be prepared for this situation all the Volkswagen factory drivers and co-drivers completed a mechanics training to get to know their Race Touareg from a mechanics point of view.
Final sprint at picturesque Lac Rose
"Afterwards the ‘Dakar' enters the hotly contested final stages,” explains Dirk von Zitzewitz. "The accompanying armada enjoys a day without travel stress on 18 January, because we complete a stage looping around the bivouac in Kiffa, while our service crew waits for us to return. On this stage we cross the famous elephant cliffs known to hoards of fans from the many photographs. We leave Mauritania the following day. However, you can't even relax on the penultimate 301 kilometre long stage to St. Louis because the route follows narrow tracks and the danger is that the co-driver can make a navigational error.”
After completing the 239 kilometre untimed liaison stage from St. Louis to Dakar the short final stage on Lac Rose south of Dakar is on the agenda on Sunday, 20 January. "A genuine ‘Dakar' classic,” raves Dirk von Zitzewitz. "Where our family and friends and the thousands of spectators cheer our arrival. We can really enjoy the final kilometres along the white sandy beach." Giniel de Villiers adds: "Obviously we hope to be the first to arrive.”