Volkswagen trio in front: Miller with stage win, Sainz takes lead
Wolfsburg (06 January 2010). Volkswagen took the lead on the so far longest and toughest special stage of the Dakar Rally: As many as three Race Touareg vehicles are setting the pace at the front of the
field after five days, both in the stage and overall classifications. Carlos Sainz/Lucas Cruz (E/E) are leading the cross-country classic with an advantage of 4m 37s. Runners-up are their team-mates Nasser Al-Attiyah/Timo Gottschalk (Q/D), followed with a gap of 9m 39s by Mark Miller/Ralph Pitchford (USA/ZA) who celebrated their first ever stage win at the Dakar Rally. Consequently, the first five days of the closely fought rally through Argentina and Chile have seen five different winners.
On the way from Copiapo to Antofagasta, which led across elevations of almost 3,000 metres and vast scree fields, the participants contested the special stage that - at 483 kilometres - was the second-longest one of the rally. For the stage winners Mark Miller/Ralph Pitchford the key to success was a style of driving that was easy on the material as well as consistently fast: The American-South African duo avoided any punctures which in view of the presence of large and sharp stones in washed-out terrain were almost inevitable.
The X-raid-BMW team with Stephane Peterhansel/Jean-Paul Cottret (F/F) that had been ranking in first place so far lost well over an hour's time in the Atacama desert. Now, the Americans Robby Gordon/Andy Grider in the Hummer are the Volkswagen trio's immediate rivals in the overall standings.
Kris Nissen (Volkswagen Motorsport Director) "This was a long and very, very good day for Volkswagen. All drivers and co-drivers did a super job. Despite our exploits in the stage and interim classifications we've got to remain calm and concentrated because the 'Dakar' itself has to be defeated first. We've still got more than 3,000 kilometres in tough terrain to tackle."
#300 - Giniel de Villiers (ZA), 17th place leg / 18th place overall "It seems like we're attracting bad luck this year. Bad for us - good for the team if the situation continued that way. Today we failed to notice a diagonal rut from a motorcycle rider in an off-road section in the dust and fully hit it, breaking a bolt of one of the front hub carriers in the process. The repair of the ball joint that was affected by the incident took very long. But that wasn't all: Afterwards we got stuck in the dust of a Kamaz truck and then, to top things off, had two punctures. For Dirk and me, helping the team as much as possible is definitely all that counts any more."
#303 - Carlos Sainz (E), 2nd place leg / 1st place overall "An extremely hard and long day on which almost nothing went wrong, actually. The Race Touareg was running like clockwork. Unfortunately, though, we damaged the right rear tyre on a stone about 100 kilometres before the finish. There was a big risk of that happening today. By finishing today's special stage as the runners-up we took the overall lead. That's why I'm more than pleased. I'm happy for my team-mate Mark Miller having won the stage."
#305 - Mark Miller (USA), 1st place leg / 3rd place overall "My first stage victory at the 'Dakar'! Today reminded me a little of the film 'Days of Thunder' - I didn't feel like I was particularly fast, but the others were slower. Today was about avoiding punctures, and we managed avoiding them. In addition, my co-driver Ralph Pitchford did a top-notch job of navigating. But we only saw a snapshot today. There's still a lot of work to be done."
#306 - Nasser Al-Attiyah (Q), 3rd place leg / 2nd place overall "Today, Timo and I were busy containing damage. Unfortunately, we suffered a puncture in an attempt to overtake Stephane Peterhansel because we drove across a large stone. That was right at the beginning of the special, so we were cautious in the middle section because we only had one spare tyre left. We attacked only towards the end and were able to make up some time that way."
#312 - Mauricio Neves (BR), 5th place leg / 7th place overall "A demanding stage with large scree fields and an impressive landscape. Unlike many others we were able to avoid punctures. That's why I'm more than happy with the stage result today - particularly because my co-driver Clecio Maestrelli did a very good job of navigating me today."
Number of the day
The aggregate of all five cylinders of the 2.5-litre TDI engine in Mark Miller's Race Touareg covered a total of 988 kilometres and 705 metres of piston travel on the fifth special stage. For comparison: the driving distance was 483 kilometres.
Three questions for team manager Peter Utoft
The first third of the "Dakar" is over; the Volkswagen service team is performing its tasks in a calm and collected manner. Is the team manager proud of the squad?
"Of course I'm proud. The development of the entire team since our first 'Dakar' has been enormous. Everyone in the team knows their tasks and completes them thoroughly and without nervousness. In our service operations each wheel perfectly engages with the others. We've simply got a fantastic team. All team members help each other and go about their work with concentration but without being uptight. Our team spirit is simply great."
What can a team manager do to maintain the squad's motivation at a high level?
"We've committed to a voluntary ban on alcohol in the team because we feel that the mechanics here are engaged in a high-performance sport too. That's why we began fostering a cherished tradition at the past 'Dakar' of celebrating each stage win with ice cream. And of course we like treating our guys to lots of ice cream. I don't think that a lot more in terms of motivation is needed because it happens automatically. And should it be necessary after all, we support the individual concerned in personal talks."
The second "Dakar" in Argentina and Chile: How much experience can you draw on?
"It's definitely an enormous advantage to return to the stage venues for the second time. We can use previously created infrastructures and continue relying on solid partners. Particularly the support by Volkswagen Argentina and Volkswagen in Chile has been outstanding. Again: experience assures that things are running in an efficient and accomplished manner. This is an additional factor that keeps the team calm and collected."
Coming up next --
Thursday, 07 January: 6th leg, Antofagasta (RCH)-Iquique (RCH). The "Dakar" retains its typical South American character on the sixth day too: On the way from Antofagasta to Iquique dune passages will again alternate with ground covered with stones and gravel. Not only the drivers have to prove their versatility, though. For the navigators the share of off-road navigation, and thus driving in the compass direction, will increase in the north of Chile.