Interview with Volkswagen Motorsport Director
The clock ticks relentlessly from the start of the Dakar Rally on 5 January in Lisbon until the finish on 20 January in Dakar. Whoever loses the least amount of time, through navigation errors or by getting bogged down in sand
for example, will finish at the front after 9,000 kilometres.
"Every team member must do a perfect job for two weeks to achieve this,” explains Volkswagen Motorsport Director Kris Nissen. With four Race Touareg prototypes fitted with 280 hp TDI-Diesel engines and driven by Carlos Sainz/Michel Périn (Spain/France), Giniel de Villiers/Dirk von Zitzewitz (South Africa/Germany), Mark Miller/Ralph Pitchford (USA/South Africa) and Dieter Depping/Timo Gottschalk (both Germany), the Wolfsburg based automobile manufacturer targets the first victory for a vehicle with diesel power.
How important is the "Dakar” project for Volkswagen?
"The Dakar Rally is the undisputed pinnacle of Volkswagen's motorsport programme. In this unique event we go head-to-head with the strongest international competition. For more than two weeks in January many millions of people from around the world follow the ‘Dakar', one of the most well-known and challenging motorsport events the world has seen. For Volkswagen it is an excellent platform from which to demonstrate performance and innovation.”
What is Volkswagen's target at the 2008 Dakar Rally?
"Our targets have not changed since the 2007 Dakar Rally: We aim to be the first automobile manufacturer to win this long and hard race with a diesel powered vehicle. We've contested 20 rally events over the last four years and claimed seven victories and 24 podium positions in the process. We won the FIA Cross Country Rally World Cup in 2005 and 2007, and with second place in 2006 recorded the best ever result for a diesel vehicle in the Dakar Rally to date. However, if you cast a glance in the trophy cabinet at Volkswagen Motorsport you'll notice that one trophy is missing: The ‘Dakar' trophy with the number 1.
How do you assess the competition?
"Last year's winner Mitsubishi is as strong as ever. It's a very successful team which demands respect. However, the X-raid BMW also made big gains in 2007, and Nasser Al-Attiyah and Tina Thörner are a particularly strong pair.”
How did the Volkswagen team equip itself for the "Dakar”?
"In contrast to previous years we organised the preparations made during the 2007 season differently. During the 2007 Dakar Rally we saw that the performance was there. After winning ten stages we knew that our team is capable of winning. For this reason we concentrated on attention to detail. The ‘Dakar' specification for the Race Touareg was ready in August which still allowed us to test the modifications in competition in two World Cup events. We've never been able to conclude preparations so early in the past. However, we shouldn't underestimate the strong competition and the unknowns. The ‘Dakar' is a unique race and you need a certain amount of luck to win. You could certainly do without a run of bad luck…”
The four factory cars are driven by Carlos Sainz, Giniel de Villiers, Mark Miller and Dieter Depping. Who is your favourite within the team for victory?
"I believe Dieter Depping can do a good job and finish the rally in the top six. However, since he and his co-driver Timo Gottschalk contest their first ‘Dakar' at the wheel of a Race Touareg they don't number among the potential winners. In contrast, our remaining three driver/co-driver pairs have excellent chances of winning. With Carlos Sainz and Michel Périn we have a very strong duo. After his successful career in classic rallying Carlos has not only learnt to drive in sand, but also underlined his ability and ambition by winning the World Cup title. He has, with Michel Périn, the most successful cross country co-driver at his side. Giniel de Villiers and Dirk von Zitzewitz are on equal terms with Sainz/Périn. Dirk is extremely focussed and composed – he always finds a solution. Giniel, a former touring car driver, is regarded as an exceptional all-rounder and is fast on any surface. Mark Miller contests his third ‘Dakar' for Volkswagen, he finished fourth overall with Ralph Pitchford in 2007 – both can be in the thick of the action again in 2008.”
What do you expect from the Dakar Rally route?
"The organisers devised an extremely challenging route to coincide with the 30th running of the ‘Dakar'. For example, the route driven against the clock is a third longer than last year. Many days will be spent in the sandy Mauritanian desert, which will be very demanding both physically and psychologically for drivers and team. The drivers will spend many hours in the cockpit on the long stages, and because the vehicles arrive late in the bivouac the Service Team can only start working on the cars relatively late in the evening. It'll be hard for everybody.”
For you, what is the unique charm of the Dakar Rally?
"Every aspect of the rally is a challenge. In contrast to Formula 1, the WRC or the DTM where you can stomach a bad day and rebound to win the next race, the ‘Dakar' clock just ticks away. Whether you get bogged down in sand, get lost or have a technical problem – the clock never stops between Lisbon and Dakar. It's similar to the 24-hour race in Le Mans, where the cars should also spend as little time as possible in the pits. However, unlike Le Mans our competition is 15 days long and runs along previously unknown terrain. Whoever loses the least amount of time will be at the sharp end at the finish. For this, it is not only the drivers and co-drivers that must do a perfect job for two solid weeks but every team member.”