Dakar: Volkswagen preview

9043 kilometres in 15 days across seven countries: The 28th running of the Dakar Rally, which starts on New Year's Day in Lisbon, promises to be both nail-biting and a demanding challenge to both the 188 men and machines registered in the car ...

9043 kilometres in 15 days across seven countries: The 28th running of the Dakar Rally, which starts on New Year's Day in Lisbon, promises to be both nail-biting and a demanding challenge to both the 188 men and machines registered in the car category.

The Volkswagen works team, which enters five Race Touareg 2 prototypes for Jutta Kleinschmidt/Fabrizia Pons (D/I), Mark Miller/Dirk von Zitzewitz (USA/D), Bruno Saby/Michel Perin (F/F), Carlos Sainz/Andy Schulz (E/D) and Giniel de Villiers/Tina Thorner (RSA/S) in the desert classic, is raring to go. "All five drivers, co-drivers and the entire accompanying team are extremely well prepared", says Volkswagen Motorsport Director Kris Nissen. "After the long preparation phase we are delighted that it's finally going to get underway. Everybody senses this tingling feeling just before the start. We want to fight for victory; it obviously goes without saying that we also need the gods to smile on us."

After the five works crews and 78 team members received a rousing public send-off on the fourth Advent before Christmas in Wolfsburg, the five Volkswagen Race Touareg 2 prototypes completed a final roll-out close to Madrid last Wednesday. "Every team member was at home with their families over Christmas, where they all recharged their batteries in preparation for the stressful event. The final preparations and, in particular, the technical and administrative scrutineering are on the agenda before the start on New Year's Eve. All the vehicles and every team member must run through this time consuming procedure", explains Kris Nissen.

Five new Volkswagen Race Touareg 2 prototypes for the desert classic

The successful Volkswagen Race Touareg, with three victories and the FIA Cross Country Rally World Cup title to its credit, was further developed in all areas. The power and throttle response of the five-cylinder TDI engine, which now produces 275 hp, were noticeably improved, and the handling and field of vision for both the driver and co-driver were optimised.

"Volkswagen has increased the tempo yet again during preparations for the hardest off-road rally", explains Volkswagen works driver Jutta Kleinschmidt, who claimed the first ever podium position for a diesel vehicle in the event's 27-year history, after finishing third in the 2005 Dakar Rally together with co-driver Fabrizia Pons. "The new Race Touareg 2 underwent a tough development programme. After which, we finished second, third and fourth on its debut in Portugal. The new vehicle is better in every aspect. Many practical details were also optimised. For example, we have improved the visibility from the cockpit in the Race Touareg 2. Also, a new rear panel eases the almost inevitable tyre change."

Classic route for 28th running of "Dakar"

"The Dakar Rally is long since a sporting competition fought at a very high-level; the spirit of adventure has however remained. The conditions are the same for every participant -- mechanic, team manager, truck driver or driver sleep overnight in the bivouac", describes Volkswagen works driver Bruno Saby, who won the FIA Cross Country Rally World Cup in for Volkswagen in the 2005 season after clinching three victories, of the "Dakar" fascination. "This rally is extremely tough. We sit for many hours in the car, and have to concentrate intensely for hours-on-end. On top of this, we often have sleepless nights, since a tent is not quite as peaceful as a hotel room. However, I have prepared myself mentally and physically the whole year for this challenge."

"A classic 'Dakar' route awaits us", explains Bruno Saby's co-driver, the three-time "Dakar" winner Michel Perin, with 23 overall victories in 43 events the most successful co-driver in cross country rallying. "The route runs over 9043 kilometres through seven countries. 4813 of these kilometres are driven against the clock on 15 stages. We can expect typical rally tracks, like those found in the World Rally Championship, over the first two-days in Portugal. Afterwards we travel from Spain to Morocco by ferry, where extremely hard tracks full of deep pot-holes are driven. In Mauritania we have to climb high sand dunes before the vegetation gets more dense in Mali, Guinea and the Senegal where the navigation is however extremely difficult because of the number of junctions."

Three strong newcomers in Volkswagen works team

The Volkswagen team was strengthened during the 2005 season through the addition of the three driver duos Mark Miller/Dirk von Zitzewitz (USA/D), Carlos Sainz/Andy Schulz (E/D) and Giniel de Villiers/Tina Thorner (RSA/S). The Spaniard Carlos Sainz is the most successful World Rally Championship driver to date with 26 victories. Sainz, who started a new and exciting challenge at Volkswagen after finishing his World Championship career, can hardly wait for his "Dakar" debut. "I tested extensively over the last few months, and have prepared intensively together with my co-driver Andy Schulz, who, as two-time 'Dakar' winner, can give me many valuable tips. Now, it's time to see just how the rally really is." Sainz could pull a few surprises on the first two days in Portugal: The predominantly classical track in Southern Europe should suit the two-time World Rally Champion.

The South African-Swedish crew Giniel de Villiers and Tina Thorner have already scored a brace of second places in the 2005 FIA Cross Country Rally World Cup for Volkswagen. Giniel de Villiers, who beat his more experienced team-mates at the Dakar Rally each time in the previous three years, looks to benefit from the experience gained over the last few years. "In 2006 I have the best vehicle that I have ever driven", he states.

New to the Volkswagen team is the American Mark Miller, who, on his third "Dakar" event, will follow the commands of his German co-driver Dirk von Zitzewitz, who started alongside Robby Gordon for Volkswagen in 2005. A long friendship links Miller and von Zitzewitz: They both raced Enduro earlier in their careers and started in the Dakar Rally together in 2002 and 2004.

New regulations demand traditional navigation with road book and compass

"New navigation rules come into force for the 2006 Dakar Rally", explains co-driver Dirk von Zitzewitz. "As a result, the co-driver plays an even more important role." In the recent past, the teams steered exactly from one predetermined control point to the next with the aid of GPS (Global Positioning System); in 2006 things go back to the desert rally's roots. The GPS Systems provided by the organiser -- only these are allowed -- merely display the direction and speed between the start and finish of a stage. The route must therefore be covered using the road-book. The GPS only displays more detailed information about a check point when the competitor closes within three kilometres of the invisible check point. The road book, distributed on the previous evening, provides the co-driver with the only form of orientation between check points. "The new rules make the co-drivers' job significantly more difficult, but much more interesting than in the previous years", says Dirk von Zitzewitz. "In the evening before every forthcoming stage, the five co-drivers go through the following day's road book together. Perfect teamwork is obviously the key to success here."

The Volkswagen drivers and co-drivers team displayed great teamwork during the 2005 Dakar Rally: Twelve months ago, Volkswagen finished third, fifth and twelfth with Kleinschmidt/Pons, Saby/Perin and Gordon/von Zitzewitz respectively. In addition, four stage victories and twelve top-3 positions were notched up during the daily stages, Volkswagen drivers also held the overall rally lead for four days.


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About this article
Series Dakar
Drivers Robby Gordon , Mark Miller , Carlos Sainz , Jutta Kleinschmidt , Fabrizia Pons , Giniel de Villiers , Tina Thorner , Bruno Saby , Michel Périn , Kris Nissen , Andy Schulz