Dakar: Volkswagen Atar rest day report

Volkswagen duo de Villiers/von Zitzewitz: teamwork is key As the front runner in the overall classification Volkswagen factory driver Giniel de Villiers from South Africa and his German co-driver Dirk von Zitzewitz have a good starting base for...

Volkswagen duo de Villiers/von Zitzewitz: teamwork is key

As the front runner in the overall classification Volkswagen factory driver Giniel de Villiers from South Africa and his German co-driver Dirk von Zitzewitz have a good starting base for the second week of the 29th Dakar Rally.

Up to the rest day in Atar/Mauritania the duo in the Race Touareg 2 already achieved two stage victories. A year ago Giniel de Villiers (34), with Swedish co-driver Tina Thörner at his side at the time, claimed second place for Volkswagen and thus the best result of a diesel-powered vehicle in the long "Dakar" history. Dirk von Zitzewitz (38) as the co-driver of the American factory driver Mark Miller finished last year's Dakar Rally in fifth position.

How would you sum up the first seven days of the 29th Dakar Rally?

Giniel de Villiers: "For us as well as for the entire Volkswagen team things have been going very well so far. Of course we're happy about our lead at the halfway point. We had some difficult days and a few easy stages. Altogether, it's been really tough. The last stage before the rest day in particular was a tricky one. But we've still got a long distance to cover on which we need to stay focused."

Dirk von Zitzewitz: "The Dakar Rally is very demanding and strenuous again, the start in Morocco was tougher than in the years past. All Volkswagen team members are doing a great job. Running in front is a nice position to be in and good starting base for the second half of the rally."

What was the most difficult situation you've had to master together so far?

Giniel de Villiers: "Without a doubt, the seventh stage from Zouerat to Atar. In the heavy dust of the sandstorm it was impossible to see the landscape which made navigating very difficult. The driving, as well, was pretty difficult in these conditions. We mastered this challenge with good teamwork."

Dirk von Zitzewitz: "Actually there have not been any really complicated situations yet. On the seventh leg in the sandstorm I navigated to far to the left after 23 kilometres and had to make Giniel turn around. We lost more than a minute, and that could have turned into a really tough situation. But it didn't because the relationship in the cockpit was very relaxed."

How difficult is the route this year?

Dirk von Zitzewitz: "The route is similar to the ones in the past few years. The leg from Zouerat to Atar had less sand and more firm ground than in previous years. Without a doubt the rally is very demanding but not notably more difficult than in 2006."

How important is teamwork for Dakar Rally?

Giniel de Villiers: "Teamwork is absolutely crucial because everything has to be functioning at total perfection over such a long period of time. This is something only a good team can accomplish -- and I mean the entire Volkswagen Team by that as well as Dirk and myself. We get along splendidly, inside and outside the cockpit. That makes a lot of things easier."

Dirk von Zitzewitz: "The teamwork between the co-drivers is particularly important because we can support each other and try to get the best out of the situation for everyone. On the track, the collaboration is extremely good because the Volkswagen drivers do not see each other as rivals but are working together to achieve a common goal. And Dirk and I, as well, are working together perfectly, we are at ease and concentrated, working hand in hand. Without teamwork you cannot successfully master a Dakar Rally."

How has the refined Volkswagen Race Touareg 2 been working out?

Giniel de Villiers: "That can be put in a few words: The car's simply been running like a charm."

Dirk von Zitzewitz: "The performance of the Race Touareg 2 is superb. All the developments of the engine and chassis are positive. The whole package has been clearly improved. If things continue like they started I can only say: fantastic!"

How strong is the competition this year?

Dirk von Zitzewitz: "The competition is very strong but we managed to put pressure on them. Mitsubishi has to start making up ground or else the team will have a problem. We'd been hoping to manage exactly this. A big compliment to our mechanics, engineers, management and drivers in our team for pulling together in such a great way. Our situation is simply a dream because we're giving the competition a hard time."

Giniel de Villiers: "There are many top-flight cars and drivers. That's why it's difficult to take a lot of time away from the others. The front runners are still close together. The rally has not been decided yet by a long shot, half an hour is nothing here."

What are your expectations for the days following the rest day?

Giniel de Villiers: "The first twp stages after the rest day will probably be the decisive ones for this year's 'Dakar'. The special stages are very long and, what's more, the marathon leg is on the agenda. This is where a preliminary decision could in fact occur."

Dirk von Zitzewitz: "The next two days will be extremely hard for the drivers, the track is difficult with a demanding navigation. From Nema, things should calm down a bit again but the navigation will remain difficult all the way to the finish. Only at Lac Rose the situation should be relaxed. Before that, we won't know the outcome."

***

Kris Nissen: "A lot's been achieved, but nothing won".

Volkswagen is outperforming itself in the Dakar Rally with the Race Touareg: Last year's runner-up Giniel de Villiers (South Africa) and his German co-driver Dirk von Zitzewitz are leading the desert classic at the halfway point in Mauritania ahead of their team-mates Carlos Sainz/Michel Périn (Spain/France).

Five of seven possible stage victories were scored by the automobile manufacturer from Wolfsburg who, in addition, has been leading the rally since it started on 6 January. This means that on the rally's rest day in Atar Volkswagen is presenting itself in a favourable position for the remaining stages until the finish in Dakar, Senegal, on 21 January.

Since the first day of the 2007 Dakar Rally Volkswagen has been proving the advance being made by TDI diesel power: The Portuguese-German duo Carlos Sousa/Andreas Schulz took the lead on the first of two European stages in the Race Touareg fielded by the customer squad "Lagos Team" and defended it for two days. On the third stage from Nador, Morocco, to Er Rachidia the Spanish-French factory pairing of Carlos Sainz/Michel Périn became the front runners. The Spaniard won the second and fifth stage with the 285-hp prototype, lying in front of Giniel de Villiers and Carlos Sousa up to the sixth day of the rally. Immediately before the rest day de Villiers/von Zitzewitz after a total of two stage victories took the lead at the halfway point, 1.39 minutes ahead of Sainz/Périn. Main rival and "Dakar" record winner Mitsubishi, without any stage victory this year so far, follows with Stéphane Peterhansel in third position and a 24.38-minute gap.

With Mark Miller/Ralph Pitchford (USA/South Africa) in eighth place and Sousa/Schulz in ninth, two other drivers of a Race Touareg are among the top ten. Ari Vatanen/Fabrizia Pons (Finland/Italy), on the other hand, retired on the seventh stage when their car caught fire. In the second half of the rally that is being staged for the 29th time seven more difficult legs in Mauritania, Mali and Senegal are on the agenda, among them a marathon stage on 14 and 15 January, with regular service by the team being prohibited on the first evening.

-credit: vw

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Series Dakar
Drivers Mark Miller , Carlos Sainz , Fabrizia Pons , Andreas Schulz , Stéphane Peterhansel , Carlos Sousa , Giniel de Villiers , Ari Vatanen , Tina Thorner , Michel Périn , Ralph Pitchford , Kris Nissen