Dakar: Volkswagen - Kleinschmidt interview

Jutta Kleinschmidt: "One of the hardest Dakar events ever" Already for the fourteenth time Jutta Kleinschmidt starts in the Dakar Rally, nevertheless even the Volkswagen works driver can hardly remember an event that was as hard as the current...

Jutta Kleinschmidt: "One of the hardest Dakar events ever"

Already for the fourteenth time Jutta Kleinschmidt starts in the Dakar Rally, nevertheless even the Volkswagen works driver can hardly remember an event that was as hard as the current 26th running of the desert classic. "Both the section length and the route are equally challenging", analyses the experienced cross-country competitor. "The 700 kilometres from Tan-Tan to Atar on the seventh stage were not easy, but at least we managed an average speed of 88 km/h. We drove 736 kilometres two days later, which was only a little further. At an average of not even 75 km/h the route however seemed never ending due to the sand, gravel and camel grass. We were one of only three teams that needed less than ten hours. Even for Dakar conditions something like that is rare."

In the meantime nine of the originally planned 17 stages have been completed, and the cross-country rally heads towards its rest day in Bobo Dioulasso on 12th January. The two stages on 10th and 11th January were cancelled by the organisers because of safety concerns. "A sensible decision, even though I would have liked to have driven", acknowledges the 2001 Dakar winner. The reason: Her Volkswagen Race-Touareg and the sister car of Bruno Saby run better and better, especially on the rough stages.

"Up till now, the best moment for me was without doubt the second place on the eighth stage", emphasises Jutta Kleinschmidt. "It did an incredible amount of good, to be able to show our thanks to the team for many months of hard work." Her French team colleague proves what is possible with the new design from Wolfsburg during its debut by occupying seventh position in the overall classification after nine stages.

However, the chance of a top finish remains unlikely for the lady born in Cologne: Water damage made to the 2.3-litre diesel power unit of the Race-Touareg after crossing a ford ended any hope of a finish among the leading group. In addition to the many litres of river water in the engine bay and cockpit of the Race-Touareg, Jutta Kleinschmidt also shed a few tears. "That was a very bitter situation as we were simply unlucky, because in other places the riverbed was very shallow. The position wasn't even marked as a river crossing in the road book, but as a trial section."

While Jutta Kleinschmidt was forced to wait for the service vehicle that towed her to the rally camp, she warned, together with her co-driver Fabrizia Pons and the four-time Dakar Rally winner Ari Vatanen who was also a victim of this treacherous water hole, the following competitors. "Otherwise this place would have been the downfall of many others." Furthermore, Jutta Kleinschmidt, who contested her first Dakar adventure with a motorcycle, helped another stranded motorcyclist to repair his bike. "It's completely normal; this is the special spirit of the Dakar."

Jutta Kleinschmidt, with her co-driver Fabrizia Pons, fell back to 123rd position. Whoever thought that the former Marathon World Cup runner-up and her navigator from Turin, the 1982 World Rally Championship runner-up as co-driver to Michele Mouton, would be disheartened by such a setback is mistaken. "I'm too deeply involved in this project just to give up the rally because of this", is the ambitious reaction of the qualified physicist. Since 2002, Jutta Kleinschmidt has not only followed Volkswagen's cross-country project from its inception but has also been actively involved, participating in the vehicle conception and contributing to the detail studies including organisational and technical issues.

The interim result speaks volumes about the motivation of Jutta Kleinschmidt and Fabrizia Pons: On the extremely rough stages after the water damage, the lady duo improved 97 positions to claim 26th overall within three days. "For a large portion of this result, we must thank the excellent navigational skills of Fabrizia on the extremely difficult ninth stage", says Jutta Kleinschmidt. "We want to drive to achieve encouraging individual results on the stages, get to know the car even better and therefore complete as many kilometres as possible. It would be fantastic if both Race-Touareg cars arrive at Lac Rosé in Dakar on 18th January. We have a very good feeling with the car and are improving all the time. We haven't even exhausted the potential of either the suspension, air pressure system or other areas of the car."

Thanks to this motivational boost the team, consisting of 43 people under the management of Volkswagen Motorsport Director Kris Nissen, will remain just as motivated for the remaining six stages over 3320 kilometres as at the beginning of the world's toughest desert rally on New Years Day in Clermont-Ferrand, France. Jutta Kleinschmidt admits to letting her head drop only once a day and this is when the Volkswagen team's physiotherapist explicitly demands this posture. "Stefan Haag from the Bad Nauheim Sport Clinic had plenty to do after the last stage as we were shaken like a milk shake during the ten hour drive", explains the desert Queen with her pleasant smile.


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About this article
Series Dakar
Drivers Jutta Kleinschmidt , Fabrizia Pons , Ari Vatanen , Bruno Saby , Michèle Mouton , Kris Nissen
Teams Volkswagen Motorsport