Volkswagen in leading trio at half-way stage Three stage victories and five days leading the field, and, on occasion, first, second and third, but also bitter setbacks on the seventh and eighth stages characterise the Volkswagen works team's ...
Volkswagen in leading trio at half-way stage
Three stage victories and five days leading the field, and, on occasion, first, second and third, but also bitter setbacks on the seventh and eighth stages characterise the Volkswagen works team's results at the half-way stage.
Third place for Giniel de Villiers and fifth position for Jutta Kleinschmidt after eight of the 15 stages means that Volkswagen is in a promising position, in one of the hardest fought events in the desert rally's 28-year history, for the second half of the rally which finishes in Dakar on 15 January.
Only forty-eight hours before the rest day on 8 January in the Mauritanian capital Nouakchott, Volkswagen was constantly fighting for supremacy with the Race Touareg during the daily stages and in the overall classification: The two-time World Champion Carlos Sainz, who swapped from the World Rally Championship to cross country rallying, took the lead immediately after recording a brace of fastest times in Portugal and held the overall lead for two days. After setting another best time on the fourth stage the Spaniard and his co-driver Andreas Schulz took the lead again and held it for a further two days. Giniel de Villiers took command of the car classification, which boasted 174 competitors at the start of the rally, from his team mate on the sixth stage. On the fourth and sixth stages three of the 275 hp prototypes equipped with TDI technology from Wolfsburg lead the field, and on the fifth stage two of the new Race Touareg 2 cars. Daily highlights in the results table underline that Volkswagen is on a par with the competition. On the extremely tough stage leading up to the rest day, Mark Miller set exactly the same stage time as fellow second finisher on the day Stephane Peterhansel, who took the overall lead for Mitsubishi.
"The thorough preparation has paid off so far, the performance is essentially good", says Volkswagen Motorsport Director Kris Nissen. "We've built a team of 78 employees, prepared systematically with tests and competitions, have developed a new car and formed the strongest team of drivers ever in the Volkswagen Motorsport's history."
In spite of all the meticulous preparation work undertaken by Volkswagen the 9,043 kilometre long desert rally proved yet again to be unpredictable -- and all this in the opening half: Many top teams were frequently victims of the rules making the navigation much more difficult. Volkswagen also paid tribute to this fact: On 6 January, Giniel de Villiers and co-driver Tina Thorner lost the lead and slipped down to fourth when they got lost. Likewise on the seventh stage, Mark Miller and Dirk von Zitzewitz found themselves running along a track, adjacent to the actual route, on which they rolled from the crest of a dune. Bruno Saby and Michel Perin lost seven hours due to a relatively insignificant defect on a fuel line which was irreparable without special tools. Carlos Sainz and Andreas Schulz also got bogged down in the dunes on the road from Zouerat to Atar and lost more than thirty minutes. A day later Jutta Kleinschmidt and Fabrizia Pons got so badly bogged down that they lost 47 minutes. The female-duo fell from third to fifth in the overall standings. Carlos Sainz lost 7:51 hours on the eighth stage owing to a clutch problem, probably a legacy of getting bogged down on the previous day, and tumbled from fifth to seventeenth overall. "We were hit really hard during the two days before the rest day", explained Kris Nissen. "On top of this comes the fact that this dose of bad luck affected four of the five cars all at the same time. Only Giniel de Villiers escaped relatively unscathed and is the closest rival to Mitsubishi."
Regardless of the number of setbacks the Volkswagen works drivers can always depend on a particularly strong team. "A great deal is expected of everybody, and they all join forces when problems occur", said an impressed Kris Nissen. "We've learnt through these difficult times that our squad's team spirit is unbreakable." The two Race-Truck teams have proven to be at the forefront of the battle. As the regulations state, only Klaus Leihener/Thomas Baumann/Thorsten Goldberg and Josep Pujol/Lucas Cruz Senra/Francois Verbist, with their MAN L90 trucks, and along with the Race-Trucks of the other teams, are allowed to offer assistance on the daily stages which sometimes run for 800 kilometres. "They were once again our 'Guardian Angels', who fought tooth and nail to help us late into the night and simultaneously competed in their own rally", praises Kris Nissen.
The Service-Teams, like the drivers, will be under permanent stress during the second half of the rally. After 4,948 of the 9,043 kilometres exactly 54 per cent of the entire distance has been completed by the participants. The remaining seven of the 15 special stages stretch over 2,114 kilometres -- as a result, 44 percent of the 4,813 special stage kilometres remain, including a marathon day where only the Race-Trucks await the five Race Touareg 2 prototypes to complete the service work on the evening of the 12 January.