Volkswagen scoops top four positions: Al-Attiyah new leader
Wolfsburg (10 January 2011). On the most difficult Dakar Rally stage so far the Volkswagen teams guaranteed enormous tension with a change of leadership. As was the case on Friday the four Race Touareg teams took the top four finishing positions on the eighth stage from Antofagasta to Copiapo. In Chile's most famous town since the mining miracle the Nasser Al-Attiyah/Timo Gottschalk (Q/D) duo took their third stage win. On his favourite terrain in deep sand Al-Attiyah replaced last year's winner Carlos Sainz/Lucas Cruz (E/E) at the head of the overall standings. The Arab is now 5 minutes 14 seconds ahead of the Spaniard.
Initially, after winning yesterday and thus having to open today's stage, Nasser Al-Attiyah was behind Sainz. Only after the tenth of 13 way points did the professional rally driver from Qatar transform a 1 minute 58 second deficit into a 6 minute 36 second advantage. Behind Sainz and Al-Attiyah, Giniel de Villiers/Dirk von Zitzewitz (ZA/D) ended the day third in front of their Volkswagen team mates Mark Miller/Ralph Pitchford (USA/ZA). As a result the two duos each moved up a place in the overall standings: De Villiers is third. Miller, who led the stage at the start, is now fifth in the rally.
While Volkswagen recorded the seventh of a possible eight stage victories, its strongest challenger fell even further behind. Stephane Peterhansel in the X-raid-BMW is 1 hour 33 minutes behind in fourth overall.
At 508 kilometres in length the teams today completed the rally's longest stage so far. Only the forthcoming stages on 13 and 14 January will be longer. In the first part of the stage the teams had to master many opencast mining access roads and passed the Paranal Observatory - the scene of the James Bond film "Quantum of Solace". All in all it was a kind of mini "Dakar" in one stage: The stage between Antofagasta and Copiapo provided a huge array of varied terrain. On the one side gravel sections requiring a more respectful approach for the material, and on the other washed out sand sections, dry river beds and canyons, which tested the navigators' skills. Several dune belts formed the crowning glory on the toughest stage of the 2011 Dakar Rally to date.
Kris Nissen (Volkswagen Motorsport Director)
"Today was the Volkswagen day! The Race Touareg ran without problems, our drivers and co-drivers worked very well. There has quite possibly never been such a difficult stage as today's. And here Volkswagen has pulled out such a large margin. It shows how good our car is and just what the occupants achieved in the cockpit. Many thanks to the whole team for this. We move ever closer to our big goal, but the 'Dakar' is and remains merciless. We must continue to give our all."
#300 - Carlos Sainz (E), 2nd place leg / 2nd position
"Today probably wasn't our day. We lost the lead after getting bogged down twice in the dunes. For the majority of the time we were close to our team mate Nasser Al-Attiyah. This would have meant that we would have extended our lead by two minutes. Instead it of this we were six minutes slower in the special stage. Of all the places we got stuck in the final dune belt. This means that our role has changed. We are now hunting and no longer the hunted. However, this changes nothing to the approach: We will continue to give our all day by day in order to be right at the front at the finish."
#302 - Nasser Al-Attiyah (Q), 1st place leg / 1st position
"Today I saved my entire energy for the dune sections and concentrated solely on attacking there. We drove for almost the entire distance alongside Carlos Sainz, the lead changed frequently between us. In the final dune section I said to my co-driver Timo Gottschalk: It's now or never. We extracted the absolute maximum. The target was to reduce the deficit. The result is the overall lead. We must continue to work cleverly to defend this advantage up to the finish."
#304 - Mark Miller (USA), 4th place leg / 5th position
"A really fantastic stage. This is how 'Dakar' stages must be: A little bit of everything was in it. Today we had a good day. Just at one point the road book allowed a lot of room for interpretation. My co-driver Ralph Pitchford did everything correct, we were right on target and nevertheless had to search for a long time for a way point. To start the stage we had to change a slow puncture, but this can always happen on such a stage. All in all I enjoyed the day. We'd be happy to see more like this."
#308 - Giniel de Villiers (ZA), 3rd place day / 3rd
"This stage was really tough. Everything was expected today from both the driving and navigational points of view. My navigator Dirk von Zitzewitz did a great job today. We followed the route 100 per cent. Occasionally, however, we didn't see any tracks from the guys in front of us. They must have been particularly clever today. Because otherwise I just can't explain my deficit on today's stage. Although we had a tyre failure it was changed very quickly. To be third overall now is fantastic. The podium is our goal. Nevertheless, I think from day to day. There are still tough stages to come. We can't afford to make any mistakes here, if we are going to make any more progress towards the front."
Number of the day
Multi cultural for victory: The "Dakar" factory team is formed from team members representing 15 different nations. In addition to the factory drivers from Spain, Qatar, Germany, the USA and South Africa, technicians and engineers from Denmark, Belgium, the Netherlands, Austria, Argentina, Slovakia, Italy, Lithuania, Turkey and Ireland complement the squad. Main language for communication: English.
Three questions to car engineer Gerhard Jan de Jongh
You undertake your first ever Dakar Rally as car engineer for Nasser Al-Attiyah and Timo Gottschalk. What is so special for you?
"A 'Dakar' is so special because you see much more of the country and people than by any other sporting event. There is also the element stamina, which is valid for material as well as for the drivers and especially for the service team. In my opinion this is unique. At no other event in the world is staying power as important as here."
You are also an experienced WRC engineer? What is the difference between sprint rallies and the "Dakar"?
"There is sufficient room for amateur teams in both the World Rally Championship and in the Dakar Rally. In the 'Dakar' they are the heart of the event. In a factory team such as Volkswagen the level of professionalism is just the same as in a WRC factory team. In this respect the two categories are comparable with one another. The differences exist in the working procedures and the intensity. For me the 'Dakar' is already at this stage as varied as a complete World Rally Championship season. There are so many different types of terrain, so many sporting ups and downs and thus such different challenges for an engineer as in an entire year in the world championship. Here it is a question of getting everything together for a single good result."
What is your best "Dakar" experience to date?
"As engineer to Nasser Al-Attiyah and Timo Gottschalk I obviously hope that the best experience is still ahead of us! Up to now crossing the Andes was an incredible experience, simply because of the inherent natural beauty. And obviously the enthusiastic fans, particularly in Argentina. I've never seen motorsport fans celebrating so enthusiastically and so interested in rallying as here. It affects everybody when you see that the locals are so interested in what you do."
Coming up next...
Tuesday, 11January: The loop around Copiapo gives the teams a contrasting picture. While the mechanics have no service route to overcome on this occasion and for the first time briefly have chance to catch their breath during the "Dakar", for the drivers and co-drivers one of the toughest rally days is on the agenda. Off-road sections of deep, soft sand on one side and on the other stony sections - physical torture requiring impeccable fitness.