Three questions to co-driver Dirk von Zitzewitz
Warning radar traps: The Volkswagen factory drivers and accompanying armada of support vehicles had to pay particular attention to their speeds on the near 1,150 kilometre journey from Portimão in Portugal to the first African
bivouac in Er Rachidia in Morocco, because strict speed limits are imposed for safety reasons along the liaison stages and in built up areas during the Dakar Rally. To ensure that the stipulated speeds are maintained the organisers monitor speeds by GPS signal and the local police with radar guns. The organisers are merciless if speeds are exceeded; speeders in the support armada face harsh penalties including confiscation of the service vehicle in question. Registered competitors can even be given time penalties.
Race Touareg 2 ready for Africa
After the two European stages finish the Volkswagen technicians prepare the four Volkswagen Race Touareg 2 prototypes for the African tracks and trails. The majority of the work centres on modifying the suspension set-up and adjusting the rally cars' ground clearance to suit conditions.
Home stage for factory team
The region around the Er Rachidia bivouac is not unknown to the big team competing in the Dakar Rally. Volkswagen and competitors Mitsubishi and BMW regularly undertake test sessions near Erfoud, which is about an hours drive south of Er Rachidia.
Volkswagen factory drivers well rested
The Volkswagen factory drivers start the Dakar Rally's first African stage relaxed and well prepared. "For the first time in years I was able to spend Christmas and New Year at home”, said co-driver Ralph Pitchford happily. Fabrizia Pons, Giniel de Villiers, Dirk von Zitzewitz and Carlos Sainz also spent Christmas at home with their families. In contrast, Mark Miller and Ari Vatanen and their wives celebrated New Year together in Portugal, where there met a rally fan who promptly invited the quartet to his wedding. "We just joined in the fun”, reports Vatanen. Three questions to co-driver Dirk von Zitzewitz
How would you describe the two Portuguese stages that opened the rally?
"The tracks were very physical for us, but also much tougher for the Race Touareg 2 than we had expected. We were well shaken in the deep sand and pot-holes. I actually thought that the start would be a little gentler on us.”
What specific tasks does the co-driver have on the Dakar Rally's European stages?
"We attempted to help the drivers more as you would in a typical rally. Although arrows marked the turns and junctions, we read the information from the road book. Particularly as the signs were often placed just over a blind crest where the driver couldn't see them, which is why the drivers needed urgent instructions. On the other hand, from today on we carry out classic navigation and send the driver the right way down the routes in Africa.”
How did you actually prepare for the rally?
"For a co-driver I undertook a very intensive fitness programme, which included time on a cross-trainer in the fitness studio and improved my stamina by jogging. I lost nine kilos to get down to my ‘fighting weight'. On the opening stages I noticed that it was well worth the effort, since the additional physical stress and strain didn't affect me.”