New Dakar Rally: Volkswagen tackles big challenge

The biggest motorsport challenge on new terrain: on 03 January 2009, the legendary Dakar Rally after 29 editions in Africa will be run in South America for the first time in its history. Four Volkswagen Race Touareg 2 vehicles will cross the starting ramp in Buenos Aires.15 legs will take the "Dakar" drivers through Argentina and Chile from the Atlantic to the Pacific and back through regions which make extreme demands on man and material. The Volkswagen team starts to this new era with the self-confidence of successfully contested rallies and fully focused on a big task.

"The team is looking forward to the event with incredibly eager anticipation. At the same time, the Dakar Rally's debut in South America is one of the biggest challenges Volkswagen has tackled so far," says Volkswagen Motorsport Director Kris Nissen. "With two wins and a second place in three events, the Race Touareg has been extremely successful this year. At the `Dakar' we'll give everything to add the greatest victory of all to this tally. Everyone in the team knows that we're strong enough to reach this goal. Yet the sport and particularly the Dakar Rally always offers surprises. We will work with concentration in order to prevail against strong rivals in extremely tough conditions."

Four Race Touareg vehicles, four seasoned factory teams

The four Volkswagen factory duos possess a wealth of experience: the two-time World Rally Champion Carlos Sainz (Spain) will be navigated by the renowned cross-country rally co-driver Michel Perin (France). Giniel de Villiers (South Africa), with four overall wins the most successful Volkswagen driver in cross-country rally sport, relies on instructions by his co-driver Dirk von Zitzewitz (Karlshof). Mark Miller (USA) and his "co" Ralph Pitchford (South Africa) in June celebrated the one-two win together with their team-mates de Villiers/von Zitzewitz as the runners-up at the Rallye dos Sertões in Brazil. A German duo is formed by Dieter Depping (Wedemark) and co-driver Timo Gottschalk (Berlin) at their debut in the Race Touareg they celebrated third place at the Central Europe Rally.

New challenges day by day: 9,000 km through Argentina and Chile

The 2009 "Dakar" offers new challenges galore: the 9,000 kilometres through Argentina and Chile are new terrain not only for the drivers and co-drivers. Technicians and engineers, as well, will be put to the test regarding vehicle set-up and maintenance in view of constantly changing landscapes along the rally route. And the team's logisticians have to deliver top performances before and during the "Dakar" too. Twice during the rally a crossing of the Andes is on the agenda. Aside from the extreme altitude of over 4,000 metres, a mix of different types of terrain is awaiting the teams. In addition to hard and stony sections at the beginning of the rally, the route includes a passage through the extremely dry Atacama desert.

The Dakar Rally in South America: an extreme voyage of discovery

Wolfsburg (17 November 2008). From one ocean to another, at extreme altitudes among mountains soaring up to heights of 6,000 metres, and through the most arid desert in the world: the Dakar Rally is more than just an automotive race for the 530 competitors, it is the greatest adventure that motorsport has to offer. With the classic desert race premiering in South America this year, the four Volkswagen Race Touaregs and the accompanying team will travel across Argentina and Chile for the first time, experiencing highly diverse and fascinating landscapes along the way. This may sound like a relaxing outdoor tour, but for the Volkswagen team of approximately 80, it's actually the toughest part of the year, as the rally cars are put through their paces on the 14 daily stages and as the team endeavours to adapt the vehicles to the diversity of the racecourse of more than 9,000 kilometres sometimes in very adverse weather conditions.

"The Dakar Rally has always been a major challenge, but the 2009 race will top everything that's gone before," says Dirk von Zitzewitz from Karlshof, who is co-driver to the Volkswagen driver Giniel de Villiers of South Africa, who came second in the 2006 "Dakar" in the Race Touareg. "We will have to be ready for something different every day and will need all our concentration, regardless of whether it's hot or cold, or whether we're at sea level or at an altitude of 4,600 metres in the Andes. It's particularly exciting that we will be driving through totally unfamiliar territory en route."

The land of the six continents: the diversity of Argentina

In terms of geography and climate, Argentina has everything from tropics to ice landscapes, and is therefore also known as the "land of the six continents". Starting and finishing in Buenos Aires, the 2009 Dakar Rally will initially traverse the legendary pampas, which are characterised by vast fields of sunflowers, cattle pastures, eucalyptus groves and total seclusion. The southernmost point of the Dakar route will be reached in the port of Puerto Madryn, a city on the shores of the Golfo Nuevo that is famed for its excellent diving opportunities. Before the route hits Chile for five stages, the Dakar will follow the foothills of the Andes to the city of Mendoza. This metropolitan city of over a million inhabitants boasts 320 days of sunshine a year and is consequently Argentina's wine- growing capital.

After crossing the Andes twice, the race leaves Chile and returns to Argentina, to the Cuyo region with its charming nature reserves, thermal springs, oases and deep mountain valleys. One of the stage destinations is Argentina's second-largest city, Cordoba, which is surrounded by fincas and which is famed for its magnificent colonial architecture. The buzz created by the arrival of the "Dakar" will only add to the city's vibrant nightlife and cultural offerings. The race then follows the course of the Parana River with its delightful scenery, via the clay-coloured floodplains of the Parana delta by Tigre and back to Buenos Aires.

Coastal resorts, deserts and mountains: Chile the "Dakar" country of contrasts

Chile is only between 80 and 180 kilometres wide, but is no less than 4,300 kilometres long and, like Argentina, has a whole host of different landscapes to offer. It is therefore widely considered to be one of South America's most beautiful countries. After crossing the Andes for the first time, passing the 6,570-metre-tall Tupungato volcano and the Aconcagua, which, at 6,961 metres, is the highest point in the western hemisphere, the "Dakar" teams will head for the first stage destination in Chile the city of Valparaiso by the Pacific Ocean. This day's stage will therefore involve two extremes, namely the challenge of the altitudes in the Andes and the moment of arriving in the picturesque bay of Valparaiso. At the halfway point of the rally, the teams will enjoy a rest day here.

With the Pacific coast to the west and the Andes to the east, the rally will then head north, to what will probably be the toughest challenge for man and machine on this Dakar Rally starting and finishing in Copiapo, the off-road prototypes will negotiate a loop through the most arid region in the world, the Atacama Desert. It is 100 times drier than Death Valley and also boasts the tallest dune landscapes in the world. The journey back to Argentina will be anything but hospitable, as the route takes the teams to extreme altitudes of up to 4,600 metres above sea level high up in the Andes and past the Laguna Brava National Park.

High-tech nomads: the "Dakar" teams make their way across South America

In addition to the four Race Touaregs, there are some 80 Volkswagen team members with 23 vehicles travelling to each of the 14 different stage destinations. The rally prototypes are serviced overnight in the Volkswagen bivouac, ahead of the next day's challenges. The service area is not only where the crew work, but also where they sleep, and each team member is equipped with a kitbag containing a one-man tent, a sleeping mat and a sleeping bag. Volkswagen has its own power generators and a well-stocked mobile kitchen, and is therefore not affected by the varying facilities to be found along the way this is important if the team needs to be well rested, even after long days and short nights. Securing sufficient supplies of drinking water for the event assistants and participants will be a mammoth challenge for the organisers even more so than during the previous 29 Dakar Rallies in Africa.

Austral summer in the Andes: 40 degrees by day, zero degrees by night

The teams and the vehicles will also have to contend with some extreme climatic conditions. In the austral summer of Argentina and Chile, for example, daytime temperatures can rise to 40 degrees Celsius in the shade, and then plummet to around zero degrees at the higher altitudes at night. The air can be humid or it can be extremely dry and the mechanics, technicians and engineers will have to remain focused at all times. The good health of everyone involved, including the right nutrition, is also an important issue, so there is a team doctor available at all times to attend to the needs not only of the drivers and co-drivers of the four Race Touaregs, but of the rest of the Volkswagen team on this motorsport expedition too.

Dirk von Zitzewitz: "You never know what to expect on the Dakar"

Wolfsburg (17 November 2008). Unknown territory on the one hand and a sporting superlative on the other: for the drivers and co-drivers alike, the Dakar Rally is always an extra special challenge. A brief interview with Dirk von Zitzewitz (Karlshof, northern Germany), navigator for Volkswagen driver Giniel de Villiers (South Africa) and part-time organiser of desert-based adventure trips.

As the co-pilot, it's your job to navigate through unknown territory. What makes your job so remarkable?

"We co-pilots take in a lot of the surroundings that the special stages of a rally take us through. It's our job to instantly compare what we see there with the abstract information we have in our roadbook and to pass the information on to the driver so that he can react quickly and safely. So it's a combination of reading the natural surroundings, understanding the roadbook and passing on precise information all under immense time pressure."

Complete the following sentence: Marathon rally sport in unspoilt natural surroundings is ...

"... one big, thrilling adventure. You never know what to expect on the `Dakar' and you have to constantly adapt to new situations and factor in the difficult terrain. That's the major difference between this and other types of motorsport, such as Formula 1, for example. There's so much variety involved and there are new challenges to overcome every day."

Motorsports aside, to what extent is your life filled with adventure?

"Quite a lot, I'd say. I love vast expanses and really enjoy discovering new places. That's why I regularly set out on motorbike tours through the desert in my spare time. It means I can really savour all these fascinating places without being under pressure for time."

The Dakar Rally will be in Argentina and Chile for the first time in 2009 what is the special appeal this time round?

"It will be particularly exciting for me, as I have never been to Argentina and have only briefly visited Chile once. The rally will take us across a great deal of the land mass and it will be terrain that isn't usually part of a `normal' trip. There will be uninhabited expanses, deserts and the Andes off the beaten track so all in all, lots of fascinating nature. From what I have read in guidebooks, Argentina and Chile have all sorts of interesting scenery, and this will be a highly diverse rally, especially for us Europeans."

What would you say sets the Dakar Rally apart?

"The `Dakar' is the mother of all rallies: it's more demanding and also more intense than the shorter rallies. The `Dakar' is all about ten hours of top performance a day, for 14 consecutive days."

Facts and figures for the "Dakar" expedition to South America

15 stages on the Dakar Rally through Argentina and Chile from the Atlantic to the Pacific and back. Here are some facts about the route that the four Volkswagen teams will be taking.

Did you know ...

... that the Atacama Desert in the "near north" of Chile is considered to be the world's most arid desert and will play host to the tenth leg of the 2009 Dakar Rally? It is 100 times drier than Death Valley and boasts the tallest dune landscapes in the world.

... that the Dakar Rally's first South American outing will take it across eleven provinces in Argentina and three in Chile?

... that the spirit of the Dakar Rally, with its roaming bivouacs, is very much in keeping with South American tastes? Argentineans and Chileans are passionate about camping.

... that the word "Argentina" comes from the treasures that the European conquerors expected to find there? "Argentum" is Latin for silver.

... that Argentina is just under eight times the size of Germany, but that its population is only half the size of Germany's? As it stretches across no less than 34 degrees of latitude, the scenery contrasts greatly.

... that the cordilleras of Argentina include over 30 mountains of more than 6,000 metres, not to mention the Aconcagua, which is the highest point in the western hemisphere? The highest point on the 2009 Dakar Rally route is at 4,600 metres during the two Andes crossings.

... that the region around Mendoza in Argentina, which is a rally stage destination, is considered to be a wine-growing paradise? This metropolitan city of over a million inhabitants boasts 320 days of sunshine a year and is said to be the city with the best quality of life in Argentina.

... that the Dakar Rally will visit three of the four biggest cities in Argentina? Buenos Aires, Cordoba and Mendoza are stage destinations and have a joint population of 14.5 million.

... that Chile stretches across 4,300 kilometres from north to south, but has a population of less than 17 million?

... that Chile has 32 national parks and 48 nature reserves? The service route for the Dakar Rally will pass eight of them during the five rally stages in Chile.

-credit: vw