Central Europe: Volkswagen preview

Volkswagen faces new challenge in cross-country rally sport Wolfsburg. The Central Europe Rally through Hungary and Romania from 20 to 26 April marks the beginning of a new era for cross-country rally racing. Volkswagen Motorsport accepts this...

Volkswagen faces new challenge in cross-country rally sport

Wolfsburg. The Central Europe Rally through Hungary and Romania from 20 to 26 April marks the beginning of a new era for cross-country rally racing. Volkswagen Motorsport accepts this challenge and tackles a new rally organised by the A.S.O. -- the organiser of the "Dakar" -- besides the desert classic with four factory-fielded Race Touareg vehicles: Carlos Sainz/Michel Perin (E/F), Giniel de Villiers/Dirk von Zitzewitz (RSA/D), Mark Miller/Ralph Pitchford (USA/RSA) and Dieter Depping/Timo Gottschalk (D/D) will contest the Central Europe Rally that starts in Budapest and ends at Lake Balaton. The competition is fierce: like at the Dakar Rally, in Hungary and Romania the Mitsubishi and X-Raid-BMW teams as well as Robby Gordon rank among the closest rivals of the Volkswagen drivers. In a fifth Race Touareg Carlos Sousa/Andy Schulz (P/D) contest the event for the Lagos customer team.

"Competing in the Central Europe Rally means we're venturing onto new territory, both in a geographical and a sporting sense," says Volkswagen Motorsport Director Kris Nissen. "Exactly this is what consistently makes cross-country rally sport a challenge we embrace. In Hungary and Romania we'll be running on off-road terrain that tends to have the strongest resemblance to the starting legs of the 'Dakar' in previous years: with lots of dirt tracks and WRC-like routes. These conditions should suit the Race Touareg and our drivers. We're well prepared for starting to a new era of the sport."

Hungary and Romania: two different rally worlds within one week

At its debut round the Central Europe Rally features two different types of terrain. Besides the predominantly bumpy dirt roads in Hungary, the Romanian Gutai mountains put primarily wooded areas with stony ground on the agenda. After starting in Hungary's capital city Budapest, the route leads to Baia Mare in Romania on the first day of the competition. From there, it loops once around Baia Mare, where two of the stages finish, back to Hungary - to Debrecen, Veszprem and to Balatonfured on Lake Balaton, where the rally ends. All in all, the contenders have to complete 2,600 kilometres, 1,100 of which are special stages, on the seven days of the competition.

"On the one hand, the character of the special stages with their WRC-typical tracks should not only suit the Race Touareg, but the drivers who have experience with sprint rallies," says Carlos Sainz, World Rally Champion in 1990 and 1992. "On the other hand, this rally in particular, which is new to all the teams, requires total concentration, especially on the co-drivers' part. When it comes to navigating, there's no risk of getting lost the way you can in the open landscapes of Africa, but in view of the numerous branch-offs mistakes can cost a lot of time."

Local warm-up: three-day test with Carlos Sainz and Giniel de Villiers

The Volkswagen factory team prepared for the first cross-country running in Eastern Europe as carefully as always. At the three-day tests around Veszprem (Hungary) Carlos Sainz/Michel Perin as well as Giniel de Villiers/Dirk von Zitzewitz worked on the setup of the Volkswagen Race Touareg vehicles. "After a four-month rally break it was very helpful to do something like a warm-up again," comments Giniel de Villiers, who celebrated a history second place with Volkswagen's 280-hp TDI prototype at the 2007 Dakar Rally. "This way, we were able to get a first impression of the routes of the Central Europe Rally. A tough fight is in store for us, in which even small time gaps can determine victory or defeat."

Professional organisation: a new rally organised by the A.S.O.

The Central Europe Rally is a new cross-country rally organised by the A.S.O. besides the legendary "Dakar". The A.S.O. has made a name for itself in organising large-scale sporting events such as the Dakar Rally, the Tour de France in bicycle racing, and in track and field competitions. "The Central Europe Rally provides a good opportunity to prepare for the 'Dakar' next year and gives us the benefit of the same level of professional organisation," says Volkswagen factory driver Mark Miller. "In addition, it is a new event on the schedule of cross-country rally racing. As drivers, we are always highly motivated, but at the premiere of a rally everyone wants to make a mark. No doubt about it: I want to finish on the podium."

For his team-mate Dieter Depping, contesting the Central Europe Rally marks the first competition at the wheel of a Volkswagen Race Touareg. "Consequently, I'm looking forward to the rally with extremely eager anticipation," says Depping, who - like Carlos Sainz - can draw on experience in classic rally racing. "The entire Volkswagen squad is committed to a team spirit. The key thing is that a Race Touareg wins. Personally, I'd like to see where I stand compared to the top drivers. The organiser's idea of establishing a new rally, and perhaps even a Dakar series with another rally in autumn, is really good."

Volkswagen Motorsport Director Kris Nissen: "We trust the long-standing experience of the A.S.O. not only in terms of organisation but with regard to safety and worldwide marketing. We're at the threshold of an important new beginning - a big chance for cross-country rally racing - which has acquired worldwide popularity as a result of the legendary 'Dakar'."

In addition to the Central Europe Rally and extensive testing, Volkswagen Motorsport in preparation for the 2009 Dakar Rally in South America plans to enter two Race Touareg vehicles in the Rallye dos Sertões in Brazil from 18 to 28 June 2008.

-credit: vw

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About this article
Series Dakar
Drivers Robby Gordon , Mark Miller , Carlos Sainz , Dieter Depping , Carlos Sousa , Giniel de Villiers , Michel Périn , Timo Gottschalk , Ralph Pitchford , Kris Nissen , Andy Schulz
Teams Volkswagen Motorsport