Before the final sprint
Kris Nissen makes positive assessment
How would you assess Volkswagen's results before the last two “Dakar” stages?
Volkswagen Motorsport Director Kris Nissen : « Two stages before the finish in Dakar I can honestly say that our results
have been very encouraging. We have made enormous progress in every aspect. Engineering, team, logistics and preparation – we solved these very complex tasks in an excellent way. To date we have won five stages, scored three seconds and seven third places, more than last year. Four of our five Race Touareg prototypes are still in the race and are currently holding second, fifth, eighth and eleventh overall – this is also an improvement over last year. If we remain second this will be the highest ever finishing position for a diesel vehicle at the Dakar Rally and the best position for a German automobile manufacturer since Porsche won in 1986. If it's not enough to win, we will be disappointed. The chance of winning was there, but we were – as it would appear at the moment – unable to take it, even though we put regular winner Mitsubishi under significant pressure for much of the route. »
Which strengths did the Race Touareg 2 show during the rally? How much potential is in this new development?
« We made a huge step forward with the Race Touareg 2, especially with the suspension and engine. As I see things, we are as good as Mitsubishi in camel grass terrain, and they set the standards, on hard and brutal gravel tracks we are probably a tick better. We still lose a couple of per cent in deep, soft sand and at low speeds. We have only just started developing the Race Touareg 2, there is a lot more to come. We will certainly test more often in soft sand in the future. We certainly won't rest on our laurels. In motorsport you must constantly press on with development, the competition doesn't sleep. »
Were there any specific reoccurring technical problems during the rally?
« No, the reliability of this new car was good straight out of the box. The problems we had were actually quite insignificant, but the effect was considerable. Firstly, Bruno Saby didn't have the special tools available to tighten a leaking diesel line caused by a loose fitting. After this occurrence, every vehicle had the tools on board, although such a thing had never happened before. Secondly, there were faulty cooling fans that cost both Carlos Sainz and Jutta Kleinschmidt an enormous amount of time. These fans were checked; new ones were refitted on the rest day and broke down anyway. The used ones worked perfectly after having been refitted. »
Volkswagen has proved its competitiveness only 24 months after the debut of the Race Touareg. How was this achieved in such a short period of time?
« I flew home with a notebook full of potential changes after the 2004 Dakar Rally. In 2005 I scribbled down half as many. This time just a few pages in the team guide were sufficient. Every point noted was implemented immediately and we have learnt, quite literally, in fast-motion from the experiences and findings. Every team member underwent a development and learning phase for the demanding tasks they would face, in much the same way as the components and systems did. The best possible preparation is extremely important for such a mammoth project like the ‘Dakar' – and this has more than paid off over the previous days and weeks. It was noticeable in the routine and calm of the entire team during the day's work in the bivouac – incomparable to 2004, when we hardly new what to expect. »
Volkswagen opted to field five strong driver/co-driver pairs at the 2006 Dakar Rally. Your assessment?
« It was correct to compete with five cars and such a versatile driver line-up. Nobody in particular stands out. All five Volkswagen drivers and co-drivers have demonstrated their skills. Small mistakes are normal. The consequences for the car are often not immediately apparent – sometimes nothing happens or just a puncture. In other cases, as with Mark Miller, two rolls were the result and in Jutta Kleinschmidt's case the rally was over. There is a high but healthy level of competition in the team. As a result, the pace is high and the number of mistakes increases. Other top drivers who were also under pressure have also made similar mistakes. »
How disappointed was the team following the seventh and eighth stages after all five Race Touareg prototypes basically dropped back one after the other?
« It was really tough to see that all five teams were hit on one of these two days and we were no longer at the front. It was almost unbelievable. The team was obviously bitterly disappointed. The fighting spirit had completely returned within a few hours. We reduced the gap each day and fought to win the stage every day. And we are not going to sit back and watch things unfold, we'll push all the way to the finish.
What impression has this year's Dakar Rally given you?
« It has been an extremely tough, fast and exciting ‘Dakar'. During the first week everybody was fighting for seconds, and at one point as many as three Volkswagen's were heading the leader board. The dash for the line is also a nail biting experience, which is completely open. From the sporting point of view this ‘Dakar' has really been of incredibly high-calibre. However, I don't know if so many top-teams have ever got bogged-down or lost on a ‘Dakar'. The navigation was difficult, which made the lives of the teams very tough and, as a result, the chances of success were not always completely even.
Press Release Volkswagen Motorsport