With three new pairings
"Dakar” winner Volkswagen will contest the Rally dos Sertões through Brazil with three new driver pairings. Factory driver Carlos Sainz (Spain) will compete in the 5,043-kilometre rally from 23 June to 3 July with his compatriot Lucas Cruz Senra as
his new co-driver for the first time; Nasser Al-Attiyah (Qatar) – with co-driver Timo Gottschalk (Berlin) – will make his debut at the wheel of the successful Race Touareg. In the third Race Touareg powered by a 280-hp TDI diesel engine the Brazilians Maurício Neves, the winner of the 2007 "Sertões”, and Eduardo Bampi want to use their home advantage. For Volkswagen, the rally covering ten legs from Goiânia to Natal marks the first competition run following the historic first diesel triumph of an automobile manufacturer at the Dakar Rally in January.
“For Volkswagen, the Rally dos Sertões is a perfect way to prepare for the Dakar Rally in many respects,” says Volkswagen Motorsport Director Kris Nissen. "The terrain is very similar to some of the ‘Dakar' legs. In addition, this rally poses challenges not even offered by the ‘Dakar'. Therefore, it's a good place for the whole team to thoroughly prepare itself in a tough competition for the highlight in January 2010. This also applies to our newly formed driver pairings who have to compete – inside our team – with the local team of Maurício Neves and Eduardo Bampi who have ‘Sertões' experience under their belts.”
Local heroes: Brazilian team complements Volkswagen's line-up
Before the rally starts, the Brazilians Maurício Neves and Eduardo Bampi will be given plenty of opportunities to familiarise themselves with their new competition vehicle, the Race Touareg, during tests in their native Brazil. Maurício Neves has set a clear sporting goal for himself at the 17th running of his home rally: "It is a great honour for Eduardo and me to be able to compete in the team of the ‘Dakar' winner alongside stars like Carlos Sainz and Nasser Al-Attiyah. The Race Touareg proved on numerous occasions that it's the quickest and most reliable vehicle in this sport. It was the measure of all things at the 2008 ‘Sertões' as well. That's why we want to sell ourselves with this top vehicle in front of our home audience as dearly as possible. Our goal is a podium place.”
Favourite's role for the "blue frogs”: Volkswagen clinched one-two win last year
Ten out of ten possible stage wins and stage times with team-internal gaps between one second and a maximum of five minutes – Volkswagen clinched a commanding one-two victory at the 2008 Rally dos Sertões with Giniel de Villiers/Dirk von Zitzewitz (ZA/D) and Mark Miller/Ralph Pitchford (USA/ZA), which they repeated at the "Dakar”. Before the year was over, the Race Touareg had quickly become the audience's darling in Brazil, Volkswagen's third-largest market: Due to their striking shape with uncompromising off-road suitability as well as the blue and silver-coloured Red Bull livery fans nicknamed the cross-country rally prototypes "blue frogs”.
First endurance test for newly formed Volkswagen teams
For Nasser Al-Attiyah/Timo Gottschalk (Q/D) – just like for their team-mates Carlos Sainz/Lucas Cruz Senra (E/E) - the "Sertões” will be the first endurance test as newly formed regular pairings. Al-Attiyah and Cruz Senra were signed by Volkswagen for the next Dakar Rally in January 2010, which will again be run through Argentina and Chile, and will make their racing debut for the Wolfsburg-based automobile brand.
"Every cross-country rally driver dreams of having the chance to compete for a factory team like Volkswagen,” says Nasser Al-Attiyah. "For me, a lot of things will be new in Brazil: a new team, a new co-driver, a new rally. With my co-driver Timo Gottschalk I have already reeled off 700 kilometres of testing in Hungary. We got on well immediately. Of course we want to convert this in to a good result at the ‘Sertões' and pay back the trust that has been placed in us.”
Carlos Sainz, as well, has a new co-driver – his countryman Lucas Cruz Senra – with whom he will share the cockpit of the Race Touareg at the "Sertões” for the first time. "Of course being able to communicate in your native tongue during the long stages is an advantage,” says Sainz, who won six stages of the last Dakar Rally and was leading the event for eight days. "Of course Lucas and I have to first spend some time getting used to each other's ways. And another thing is clear also: Even though we're competing together for the first time, we definitely want to win, despite the fact that Nasser Al-Attiyah and local hero Maurício Neves, who is intimately familiar with the terrain, are strong rivals within our own team."
Over 5,000 kilometres: packed with water crossings and quick gravel sections
Featuring more than 5,000 rally kilometres, ten legs without a rest day and high outside temperatures, the Rally dos Sertões ranks among the toughest events on the cross-country rally calendar. Crossing a total of six Brazilian provinces poses numerous challenges to the teams: In 2008, for example, as well as some 40 water crossings with a length of 150 metres high-speed gravel sections were on the agenda.
"The ‘Sertões' differs from the Dakar Rally, even though both are having analogies and are staged on the same continent,” says Timo Gottschalk, the co-driver of the team's newcomer Nasser Al-Attiyah. "It'll be crucial to perfectly adjust the pace to the changing conditions without taking risks and without unnecessarily losing time.”
Detailed roadbook challenges the co-driver
As early as in 2008 the Volkswagen co-drivers praised the detailed and informative roadbook provided by the "Sertões” organisers. "But exactly this detail also poses a challenge,” says Timo Gottschalk. "As a co-driver, you have to give a lot of information to the driver and, at the same time, judge whether the route you're following is the right one, considering all the many narrow trails.”
"Sertões” 2009: the first of two rallies on the way to the 2010 Dakar Rally
The Rally dos Sertões is the first of two rallies Volkswagen will contest in preparation for the 2010 Dakar Rally. In addition to the event in Brazil, the factory team's schedule includes the Silk Way Rallye through Russia, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan from 5 to 13 September, which is organised by "Dakar” organiser A.S.O and provides a foretaste of the dune and sand stretches at the "Dakar”.