The first Dakar Rally victory
Volkswagen starts the Dakar Rally premiere in South America with four Race Touareg. Their declared target: The first victory in the desert rally for the Wolfsburg based automobile manufacturer. Volkswagen has the opportunity of gaining a double
entry in the cross country rallying history books during the legendary "Dakar” through Argentina and Chile between 03 and 18 January: As first brand to win this world famous off-road competition with a diesel powered vehicle and, at the same time, to be the first manufacturer to win the "Dakar” in South America.
Carlos Sainz/Michel Périn (E/F), Giniel de Villiers/Dirk von Zitzewitz (ZA/D), Mark Miller/Ralph Pitchford (USA/ZA) and Dieter Depping/Timo Gottschalk (D/D) take the start in four 280 hp cross country rally prototypes.
"The Dakar Rally is one of the greatest challenges in motorsport. It will be even tougher in 2009. Our goal is to win this acid test for man and machine for the first time,” says Volkswagen Motorsport Director Kris Nissen. "To achieve this we have assembled the best possible package. In the Race Touareg we have a well-developed and fast car driven by four strong driver/co-driver pairs. The entire team has left absolutely nothing to chance during the intensive period of preparation. We perfectly equipped for this new challenge in South America.
Evolution of a winner: Race Touareg 2 optimised in detail for the "Dakar”
Evolution replaces revolution: Volkswagen brings an advanced vehicle in the form of the Race Touareg 2 to the start. The cross country rally prototype is designed to master every aspect of the "Dakar” perfectly: "Expect the unexpected”. For this purpose the diesel four-wheel drive vehicle, which is credited with nine victories and 29 podium finishes as well as 79 from a possible 170 stage victories including 20 in the "Dakar”, underwent detail development. "It is exactly these small modifications that can have such a great effect in motorsport,” says Andreas Lautner, Technical Director at Volkswagen Motorsport. "We therefore concentrated on optimising the successful package in small steps and, in addition, attached great value to reliability. The Race Touareg proved its outstanding reliability during the extensive test programme where the ‘Dakar' distance was repeatedly simulated.”
At the same time the driver/co-driver squads enjoy an improved damper system developed in conjunction with technology partner ZF Sachs Race Engineering and which further improves the Race Touareg's behaviour over jumps. Furthermore, the driver's visibility was improved by slightly modifying the seating position and a flatter bonnet – as a result the drivers can better assess the characteristics of the new terrain in South America. Especially for the "Dakar” premiere in Argentina and Chile a real benefit for the occupants.
Experience counts: Volkswagen backs proven driver and co-driver teams
Four pairings with experience in cross country rally sport: Volkswagen also backs proven driver/co-driver pairings and in the same way with technology and careful preparation. The spectrum of the four Volkswagen squads ranges from rally World Champions via former "Dakar” winners to sprint rally aces. The two-time rally World Champion Carlos Sainz (Spain), who won the Central Europe Rally in April 2008 and in the process defeated, among others, long-term "Dakar” rivals Mitsubishi and X-raid-BMW, is navigated by Michel Périn (France). With 24 wins from 51 events Périn is regarded as the most successful co-driver in cross country rallying. "The goal is clear: We want to win the Dakar Rally for Volkswagen,” says Carlos Sainz. "Following the perfect preparation and with a highly motivated team we have, like our team mates, the chance of writing history.”
The Spanish-French duo has fierce competition from within their own camp: The South African Giniel de Villiers and his German co-driver Dirk von Zitzewitz won the Rally dos Sertões in Brazil in June 2008. As a result, Giniel de Villiers gave the Race Touareg its ninth overall victory and collected his fourth. Furthermore, Giniel de Villiers is credited with the best "Dakar” result for a Race Touareg to date – namely second place in 2006 which he scored together with Tina Thörner (S) then. The US American Mark Miller and his South African co-driver Ralph Pitchford, with fourth place in the 2007 Dakar Rally the best placed Volkswagen team, took second in Brazil and celebrated three stage victories along the way. The German squad Dieter Depping/Timo Gottschalk can also look back over a successful year in the Race Touareg: On his debut in the Volkswagen prototype the four-time German Rally Champion Depping claimed a strong third place in the Central Europe Rally through Hungary and Romania and beat "Dakar” winner Luc Alphand (Mitsubishi) in a thrilling duel.
Superlative upon superlative: The toughest Dakar Rally route ever
New landscapes, the same challenge: The Dakar Rally runs from the start in Buenos Aires from ocean to ocean, over extreme altitudes in the shade of six-thousand metre high peaks and through the world's driest desert. The tour through varied and, at the same time, fascinating regions of Argentina and Chile also provides the 530 participants with their cars, motorbikes, quads and trucks with new obstacles. "It's summer in South America now – and it'll be even hotter than the last ‘Dakar' event through Africa,” says Volkswagen factory driver Giniel de Villiers. "On top of this comes the double crossing of the Andes with its extreme heights of up to 4,700 metres over sea level. It is something completely new for every team. I'm convinced that the ‘Dakar' organisers A.S.O have prepared a unique rally with many challenges. They really want to prove that the ‘Dakar' has lost none of its fascination and hardness through the change from Africa to South America.”
Fit for the Andes: Volkswagen factory drivers undergo fitness programme
"You can only concentrate for long periods of time and avoid errors on the very tough and long stages if you are really fit,” says Volkswagen factory driver Mark Miller who, like his fellow team mates has prepared meticulously for the 14 daily stages. "Fitness is a key factor in the fight for overall victory in the Dakar Rally.” The 2009 running of the desert classic will make additional physical demands. "Alongside our normal training programmes we also prepared physically for the ‘Dakar' with altitude training in Arosa,” says Miller. "With the changing air pressure in extreme altitudes the oxygen content in the air drops – you must be correspondingly prepared for this challenge.”
The rapid assistance: The Volkswagen team's complex logistics
In addition to the sporting challenge the Volkswagen team must also manage an organisational one: To send the four Race Touaregs perfectly prepared every time into the next stage the Service Crew transports a total of 50 tonnes of tools, equipment and spare parts through Argentina and Chile. For this purpose, the near 80 strong team must also complete a marathon each day: From the Service Touareg to the MAN Race Trucks, which as registered competitors, also complete the same route as the Race Touareg and in the event of repairs must be available to offer assistance, every vehicle in the fleet plays a specific role.
"It's reassuring to have such a strong team behind you,” says Volkswagen factory driver Dieter Depping. "When our work finishes after we arrive in the bivouac the second shift starts for the Volkswagen mechanics that have themselves already covered an enormous distance. Nevertheless we drivers know that we can completely rely on the quality of their work. Cross country rallies are a real team game.”
While the equipment and every service vehicle were shipped to Buenos Aires from Le Havre at the end of November, the four Race Touaregs were dispatched to Argentine by airfreight shortly before Christmas. The team is still to follow before New Year. On New Year's Day the document inspection and technical scrutineering are on the agenda, the mandatory start from the ramp in the Argentinean capital follows on 2 January, and on 3 January on the first stage over 700 kilometres are on the programme.
"We expect a tough and exciting Dakar Rally and look forward to the great enthusiasm of the Argentinean population, a land in which Volkswagen is extremely well represented and also builds cars,” says Volkswagen Motorsport Director Kris Nissen. "It is new territory for everybody, experiences from earlier ‘Dakar' events offer limited help, least of all the co-drivers. Everybody has the same chance. After X-raid-BMW and Volkswagen, Mitsubishi now also backs diesel power. We want to demonstrate our expertise and also have our nose in front at the finish thanks to innovative TDI Technology.”