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Open road for VW at the Dakar Rally
How will the team manage the situation?
Starting out of Valparaiso and with seven days of racing to go, forecasting the results of the cars category at the Dakar Rally is a simple thing to do - under the condition that Volkswagen manages its favourable situation correctly.

team, which no longer has rival contenders Stéphane Peterhansel, Luc Alphand and Nasser Al Attiyah to deal with, can look forward to the coming week with a certain peace of mind... but will that happen?

During their press conference, the team seemed composed, tightly knit and determined to clinch its first Dakar victory. With a sure voice, team principal Kriss Nissen declared that he is practically certain it will work.

There remains however that Carlos Sainz's impetuousness next to de Villiers must be contained, and a watchful eye must be kept on the sole Mitsubishi Lancer still in the game, that of fourth-placed Nani Roma's, who at this point has nothing to lose.

The Spaniard showed during the first week of racing that he could be counted upon, a claim that Mitsubishi boss Dominique Serieys repeated in front of the media - despite earlier team orders to simply bring the car home following three retirements out of a four-strong line-up.

With three cars in the top three positions of the general standings, with a 29-minute lead on Roma, and with five out of seven stages won by the Volkswagen team, it is easy to imagine that victory will fall in the hands of Carlos Sainz, Giniel de Villiers, or even Mark Miller.

How will the situation be managed between Sainz and de Villiers, only nine seconds apart? If both push hard for too long, the reliability of both Race Touaregs might fail. One must also consider that in three days, following the Copiapo loop, comes the only marathon stage of the rally during which no assistance will be available.

Meantime, in fifth position behind the wheel of his Hummer, Robby Gordon displayed a good deal of quiet know-how during the first half of the rally and has not conceded the win just yet.

In fact, the American driver has been an observer of past events and mentioned the Volkswagen team's penchant for encountering trouble after the rest day... In other words, Gordon is telling us to sit back and watch the happy or unhappy outcome of Nissen's VW outfit.

Nothing is decidedly gained nor lost, and the coming week promises an intense race. But the question remains: who will have the last word in Buenos Aires next Saturday?
Marie-France Estenave

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