72 days until the 2009 Dakar Rally in Argentina and Chile
Mark Miller: "The big 'Dakar' puzzle is coming together"
Wolfsburg. A big challenge, meticulous preparation: a good two months before the start of the Dakar Rally in Argentina and Chile (03--18 January) the level of suspense is consistently rising in the Volkswagen team. During the final tests with the Race Touareg 2 in Morocco factory driver Mark Miller (USA) in an interview provides insights into the preparations for the motorsport highlight at the beginning of January.
Mark Miller, the Dakar Rally starts in 72 days - is the level of suspense rising now?
Mark Miller: "On the one hand it is, but on the other it isn't. Day by day, we're getting a little closer to the 'Dakar', so the type of preparations are changing a little. Now, every single detail's got to fit. No doubt, this rally is the highlight of Volkswagen's entire motorsport programme, everyone in the team is 100 per cent focused on it. And now, a few weeks before the start, the planning reaches its final stage: the big 'Dakar' puzzle is coming together. But everyone's cool about it, everything's going according to plan."
Your schedule is filled to the brim these weeks. How do you prepare for the event?
"Directly after the second rally of the Dakar Series in Portugal we completed an altitude training programme. Every driver's got an individual fitness regime for it on which he works every day. We're currently running a final test with the Race Touareg in Morocco during which the driver/co-driver crews, for example, also practice working on the car so that we're able to help ourselves if necessary. Each of these individual elements during this phase of the year is important to assure that we're going to the 'Dakar' perfectly prepared."
Before the Dakar Rally, is there any area requiring a particular amount of attention?
"I think that over the past few years the speed and reliability of the Race Touareg 2 have reached an extremely high level. To sustain it, detailed further development is important, as is taking the car to the limit during tests to prove its durability. This is exactly what we're doing at the moment in Morocco. The Dakar Rally is the toughest test in motorsport as far as the material is concerned."
The "unknown" is always a major factor in cross-country rally sport, particularly during the upcoming "Dakar" which will be run in Argentina and Chile for the first time. As a driver, how can you prepare yourself for this?
"Of course, we look at all the photographs and watch the videos of the regions we expect to be covering. This enables us to develop a general feel for the terrain. But cross-country rally sport remains what it is: as a driver, you've got to make decisions on special stages at lightning speed, you've got to permanently adjust and weigh the risks. No matter what terrain you encounter - as a driver, you have to possess a high level of adaptability. If you've got that, it doesn't matter where in the world you compete."
In the next few weeks, with the Baja 1000 in Mexico where you'll be using a newly developed Baja-Touareg with a V12 TDI engine, you've got another personal highlight on your agenda. To what extent will this event help you to prepare for the "Dakar" - and vice versa?
"The Baja 1000 is a fantastic weekend event for which we prepare with similar care as we do for the Dakar Rally. That's why we spent a lot of time in the California desert during the past three weeks to test and prove the durability of the completely new prototype. However, as we're practically starting from scratch and the regulations differ a lot, there are no technical commonalities with the Race Touareg. Nevertheless, the work on the Baja project helps a great deal to sharpen one's senses for many different tasks."
Both the "Dakar" and the Baja 1000 require good physical fitness. How do you physically prepare for these two events?
"Unless I'm testing in Morocco or Mexico a daily fitness regime is part of my schedule like going to the office is for others. This year, in addition to endurance training on the bicycle, the programme also includes aerobics exercises. Compared with the past three years, this is a new element in my preparations."
But then you've probably got to make a lot of sacrifices in your life --
"Of course a sporting life requires a high level of discipline. But I enjoy being physically fit and working on myself. Fortunately, we've managed to coordinate our family life well - when my children are off to school, my work starts. When they're back we can spend time together. So, in this respect, there's not a lot I have to do without."
The physical aspect is one thing but psychological strength is something different. Are you also mentally preparing yourself specifically for the Dakar Rally?
"Not really. Cross-country rally racing requires 100 per cent concentration at all times anyhow. And particularly with long rallies like the 'Dakar' you've got to recover something you may lose on one day the next day. So, you've got to give everything every day. And those who know me know that I've never had any problem with this. Before the event, I leave no stone unturned to perfectly prepare myself physically and in a technical sense, this gives me a full measure of self-confidence when I'm sitting in the car."
So now it's 100 per cent concentration for the "Dakar". But what are you going to do directly afterwards, after crossing the finish line in Buenos Aires?
"On my first day at home I'll be sleeping a solid 20 hours. And after that, I'll be attending to my hobbies for which there's simply no time at the moment. But as far as the time immediately after crossing the finish line is concerned, I'm hoping that we'll have a lot to celebrate."