Nasser Al-Attiyah: "Volkswagen's 'Dakar' win is a great help"
Wolfsburg (12 December 2009). Volkswagen signed Nasser Al-Attiyah this year. The Arab from Qatar who won last year's FIA Cross Country Rally World Cup contests the Dakar Rally for the first time with a factory team. The 38-year -th the Race Touareg. In parallel to this Nasser Al-Attiyah also completed a sprint rallying season and won the FIA Middle East Rally Championship for the sixth time only a few days ago. In this interview he expresses his views before the his first "Dakar" start for Volkswagen.
You won the Middle East Rally Championship for the sixth time on 5 December - congratulations. How would you compare the two disciplines sprint rallying and cross country rallying with each other?
"Thank you for the congratulations. I actually really enjoy both types of rallying and for this reason compete in them parallel to one another. With the Group N cars in sprint competitions like the Middle East Rally Championship or the Production Car World Rally Championship it is more a question of pure speed. Technically I have to drive absolutely 100 per cent perfectly. In cross country rallying you have to use your head more since it is not just about speed."
You've been involved in cross country rallying for a long time. You signed a contract with the Volkswagen factory team during the 2009 season. What are this team's greatest strengths compared to the other teams?
"The biggest differences are highlighted by two qualities: Volkswagen is an official factory team and a professional squad. As a result all the resources and conditions required to operate successfully in cross country are given, which the team's results prove."
You compete for the first time for a team that has already won the Dakar Rally. Is the pressure of expectation on you a burden or do you view this victory as a great help for your work?
"I see it as a great help and not as a burden. Volkswagen supports my ambitions perfectly. Even before I never felt pressure."
In your previous team you were clearly the lead driver. Now you are a part of a particularly strong squad that Kris Nissen has forged for Volkswagen. What does this mean to you?
"Indeed, Kris Nissen has really put together the strongest driver line-up. It feels really good to be a part of it. I think that Kris selected me because I've shown that I am one of the quickest in cross country rallying."
Which characteristic of the Race Touareg do you particularly rate?
"The Volkswagen Race Touareg is fantastic. I consider the basic, uncompromising design to be the best feature: It is a stable and genuine rally car."
Timo Gottschalk is your new co-driver. How would you describe your work together?
"Timo is a good co-driver. However, we have only recently started working together. We are still very much at the learning stage of our relationship, which is the same for every driver co-driver pairing."
In your first two events for Volkswagen - the Rally dos Sertões and the Silk Way Rally - you fought for victory immediately with you team mate Carlos Sainz. What will be the deciding factor at the Dakar Rally for victory and the minor placings?
"For me it will be a question of retaining the same pace as before, but I need a little more luck. Then we'll have a good chance."
How would you describe your driving style with the Race Touareg?
"Even though the bottom line is always about time: For me to be really quick my driving style is rather more gentle and fluid than hard and aggressive."
The Dakar Rally has found a new home in South America. You personally come from Qatar and have already competed in many desert rallies on the Gulf. What is the greatest challenge of the new route?
"Yes, there are deserts and sand dunes there also. But the rally has in general a different character. The South American nature with all its geographical peculiarities is the greatest challenge for me. We have to stay focused for 16 long days."
As rally driver you don't have a talisman and are not superstitious. Do you nevertheless have habits which nobody knows about?
"There is possibly a cultural influence that not everybody knows about. As professional athletes it goes without saying that we pay attention to our sport diet and isotonic drinks. However, particularly in Argentina I like to drink mate tea from pumpkin shells."
You are not only a good rally driver but also a good at clay pigeon shooting. You have even represented your country in the Olympics. From where does your interest come for this and which parallels exist to motorsport?
"There are certainly no unusual reasons for my interest. In Qatar clay pigeon shooting is a very popular sport. The Olympics is something very special as I represented my country there while in motorsport my Volkswagen team and I represent ourselves. Of course the differences between motorsport and clay pigeon shooting are large. However, there are also some similarities such as the aspect of concentration."
Not many people know that you assumed an ambassadorial role as sportsman for the United Nations?
"The public obviously sees the rally driver in me. However, when the United Nations initially looked for an ambassador for its global sports foundation it was an enormous honour for me when the Olympic Committee selected me. The foundation helps young people who are threatened by violence and drugs."
During your preparations for the Dakar Rally which sports did you concentrate on?
"I was doing a typical training programme in a fitness studio. I also like going swimming often to stay as fit as possible."
Which targets have you set for the Dakar Rally?
"Together with Timo Gottschalk I want to fight for overall victory for Volkswagen. There are two special places reserved in my trophy cupboard: one for the Dakar trophy and one for an Olympic medal."