Dakar Rally : Volkswagen Motorsport - Rest Day
Volkswagen is outperforming itself in the Dakar Rally with the Race Touareg: Last year's runner-up Giniel de Villiers (South Africa) and his German co-driver Dirk von Zitzewitz are leading the desert classic at the halfway point
in Mauritania ahead of their team-mates Carlos Sainz/Michel Périn (Spain/France). Five of seven possible stage victories were scored by the automobile manufacturer from Wolfsburg who, in addition, has been leading the rally since it started on 6 January. This means that on the rally's rest day in Atar Volkswagen is presenting itself in a favourable position for the remaining stages until the finish in Dakar, Senegal, on 21 January.
Since the first day of the 2007 Dakar Rally Volkswagen has been proving the advance being made by TDI diesel power: The Portuguese-German duo Carlos Sousa/Andreas Schulz took the lead on the first of two European stages in the Race Touareg fielded by the customer squad "Lagos Team" and defended it for two days. On the third stage from Nador, Morocco, to Er Rachidia the Spanish-French factory pairing of Carlos Sainz/Michel Périn became the front runners. The Spaniard won the second and fifth stage with the 285-hp prototype, lying in front of Giniel de Villiers and Carlos Sousa up to the sixth day of the rally. Immediately before the rest day de Villiers/von Zitzewitz after a total of two stage victories took the lead at the halfway point, 1.39 minutes ahead of Sainz/Périn. Main rival and "Dakar” record winner Mitsubishi, without any stage victory this year so far, follows with Stéphane Peterhansel in third position and a 24.38-minute gap.
With Mark Miller/Ralph Pitchford (USA/South Africa) in eighth place and Sousa/Schulz in ninth, two other drivers of a Race Touareg are among the top ten.
Ari Vatanen/Fabrizia Pons (Finland/Italy), on the other hand, retired on the seventh stage when their car caught fire. In the second half of the rally that is being staged for the 29th time seven more difficult legs in Mauritania, Mali and Senegal are on the agenda, among them a marathon stage on 14 and 15 January, with regular service by the team being prohibited on the first evening.
Kris Nissen (Volkswagen Motorsport Director)
"As in previous years, the 2007 Dakar Rally is very thrilling again. You can clearly see that we've made another step forward in every area. The vehicle is quicker, the drivers and co-drivers are better prepared and the team, too, has progressed in terms of logistics and preparation. At the rally's halfway point we're right on target. We're very happy with the results and the way things are running within the team. We've achieved a lot so far, but nothing's won yet. The rally has really just started now because in Mauritania some extremely long and difficult stages are awaiting us, putting the drivers and co-drivers to the test for hours on end. That's why it's a welcome aspect that the evolution of the Race Touareg has not only made the vehicle faster but more comfortable as well. The chassis is more comfortable, and the steering and gearshift are more operator-friendly, while the engine has a wider speed band. The drivers can keep a good pace with less effort. The bottom line: We're going to give everything to continue running in front and, hopefully, win in the end as well.”
#301 – Giniel de Villiers : 1st place overall
"Things are going really well for us. At the halfway point we're leading. We had some trying as well as some easier days. The day before rest day was the toughest one, among other things because visibility was down to zero in the sandstorm. The whole team is working very well and that's important because this rally is a team sport. Everyone has to work together very well across a long period of time. We need to stay focused through to the finish because the competition is very strong again this year. There are many good drivers which makes it difficult to achieve major time gaps. Our Race Touareg 2 is in perfect shape, we've had no problems so far. The next two days after the rest day will probably be decisive for the rally.”
#301 – Dirk von Zitzewitz : co-driver
"The ‘Dakar' is very strenuous again and was off to a more difficult start in Morocco than expected. We've got a superb starting base at the moment for the second half.”
#303 – Carlos Sainz : 2nd place overall
"I'm really satisfied because we opened the course on many days. Neither for Michel nor myself it was easy being the first car out. On the seventh stage I expected to be losing more time when I got stuck. We've got a good starting base for the rally's second half.”
#303 – Michel Périn : co-driver
"The roadbook this year is really good, I'm very happy with the materials we received. The navigation worked out well – but that's not only the co-driver's merit but a question of teamwork. Many times we've had to open the course here together. And although Carlos is still relatively new in this sport he took part in the job perfectly. Although we lost the lead to our team colleagues we still have the chance to win.”
#305 – Mark Miller : 8th place overall
"For the team, it's a great interim result but for me, personally, the first half of the rally has been a big disappointment. I spent a whole year working toward this event but, unfortunately, we simply lost too much time due to several things. But that's part of the Dakar Rally as well.”
#305 – Ralph Pitchford : co-driver
"I really enjoyed the first days in the cockpit with Mark Miller. He's a very professional as well as a prudent driver. Mark and I haven't made the slightest navigating mistake – and I'm very proud of that. Now I'm looking forward to the second and last week and hope that we'll have some trouble-free days and be ale to help our team-mates. I enjoy working with such a dedicated and professional team.”
#308 – Ari Vatanen : retirement
"This just wasn't our ‘Dakar', unfortunately, but I do hope that it will be Volkswagen's 'Dakar'. At an early stage already I lost almost seven hours passing through water. Giniel is showing what's possible with the Race Touareg – he puts the pressure on and is running in front. Unfortunately we were forced to retire on the seventh stage when the car caught fire. Such a vehicle is a real work of art. It was awful having to watch the flames destroy the many days of work spent by the mechanics in just a few minutes. The organisers picked us up at the end of the special stage. I keep my fingers crossed for Volkswagen.”
#308 – Fabrizia Pons : co-driver
"Despite the problems and our retirement I will have fond memories of the 2007 Dakar Rally. Working with Ari and the team has been good fun. Too bad that we were running only for one week instead of two. When there was smoke all of a sudden we left the car that was in flames – even my money and my mobile phone were destroyed by the blaze. On Sunday we'll be flying back to Paris on the organiser's aircraft as we have no chance to stay with the team because we're not listed as co-drivers in any of the remaining vehicles. We wish the team all the best for the second half.”