Dakar: Volkswagen stage 16 report

Volkswagen writes Dakar Rally history Almost a quarter of a century to the day, Volkswagen again writes Dakar Rally history: In 1980, Volkswagen was the first German manufacturer to win the Dakar Rally. Twenty five years later with the ...

Volkswagen writes Dakar Rally history

Almost a quarter of a century to the day, Volkswagen again writes Dakar Rally history: In 1980, Volkswagen was the first German manufacturer to win the Dakar Rally. Twenty five years later with the Race-Touareg, the German-Italian duo Jutta Kleinschmidt/Fabrizia Pons gave a diesel powered vehicle its first ever podium finish in the world's hardest desert rally by taking third position.

In addition, Volkswagen underlined the innovative qualities of TDI-power from Wolfsburg with four stage victories for the powerful 260 PS Race-Touareg and four days at the head of the overall leader board. The Frenchmen Bruno Saby/Michel Périn completed the good result for Europe's largest car manufacturer with fifth position, while American 'Dakar' debutant Robby Gordon, together with co-driver Dirk von Zitzewitz, reached the finish of the 9,000 kilometre long African classic in twelfth.

"I'm delighted with Volkswagen's historical result and the exemplary performance by the team led by Motorsport Director Kris Nissen", explains Professor Wilfried Bockelmann, as Member of the Board of Management Volkswagen responsible for the Technical Development, who witnessed the finish in the Senegalese capital Dakar in person. "We have followed the schedule we set to the letter: In 2004 we wanted to finish, the podium was our target in 2005. With achieved this with Jutta Kleinschmidt's outstanding finishing position, and not forgetting fifth overall for Bruno Saby. One year after its premiere, the Race-Touareg is not only reliable and fast, but also capable of winning. This was clearly demonstrated by winning several individual stages and the time spent leading the entire field. The systematic development made to the five-cylinder TDI engine, and also the steps made with the complete car have been demonstrated impressively by the performances of all four works drivers."

In the battle that raged between the twelve works prototypes and the many other top vehicles, Volkswagen recorded, as second best marque in the field with the driver pairings Robby Gordon/Dirk von Zitzewitz, Jutta Kleinschmidt/Fabrizia Pons, Juha Kankkunen/Juha Repo, and Bruno Saby/Michel Périn, many excellent results. On 5th January, under their own steam, Jutta Kleinschmidt and co-driver Fabrizia Pons took third place overall in the closely fought leading bunch. The 2001 'Dakar winner' strengthened her promising position with more excellent stage results, including a stage victory on 11th January and by recording third best time on two occasions. The Volkswagen works driver valiantly defended her third position for twelve long days, and scored Volkswagen's first Dakar Rally podium finish since the Race-Touareg debut one year ago and mounts the rostrum as the most successful woman in the event's history and for the fourth time overall.

Volkswagen newcomer Robby Gordon quite literally lit the New Year fireworks when he took the overall lead, which he held for two days, after setting the fastest time on the opening stage held along the beach in Barcelona on 31st December. Following a second stage win, the Californian retook the overall lead from ex-World Rally Champion Colin McRae on the fourth stage. In Africa, on day six, 'Dakar' debutant Gordon fell victim to a bump and lost almost eight hours after rolling his car. The American and his German co-driver Dirk von Zitzewitz displayed unstinting motivation during their fight back from 101st to twelfth position overall and provided help to his team mates on numerous occasions on the remaining stages.

Bruno Saby, 'Dakar' winner in 1993, took the lead in his Volkswagen Race-Touareg during the sixth stage from Smara to Zouerat in Mauritania. A hard landing after a dune on the seventh stage and the subsequent technical problems threw the Frenchman back down the leader board to tenth. With co-driver Michel Périn, Saby reclaimed position after position and has held fifth position overall since the twelfth stage. The duo underlined their qualities with a brace of second fastest times on the 14th and 15th stages and the fastest time on stage 16. As fifth placed finisher Bruno Saby improved one position compared to last year, when he crossed the finish line, as highest placed Volkswagen driver, in sixth position on the Race-Touareg prototype's debut.

The four-time World Rally Champion Juha Kankkunen was running sixth overall with his Finnish countryman Juha Repo before he fell back to 50th position when he damaged the suspension and a driveshaft after hitting a rock on the merciless marathon-stage from Zouerat to Tichit on the 6th January. After the Finn had improved to 39th position within two stages and the team had given him the role of wingman to support Bruno Saby, Volkswagen were forced to withdraw the Race-Touareg of the 1988 'Dakar' winner after rolling on the tenth stage. Although the prototype was not irreparable, the forthcoming, and extremely strength sapping second marathon-stage demanded a concentration of effort.

The podium finish in the world's hardest desert rally marks the successful conclusion to the Race-Touareg car's first competitive season. Over the course of five competitive events -- including two 'Dakar' starts -- the diesel prototype recorded eleven stage wins and led the individual cross country rallies for a total of eight days since January 2004

Kris Nissen (Volkswagen Motorsport Director)

"The Dakar Rally was a huge success for Volkswagen, even though it was only the second start for the Race-Touareg. We really are very satisfied. All team members have worked excellently. The improvement was enormous when compared with last year. Our drivers and co-drivers have performed fantastically. You could also see that we have made a huge step forward on the engineering side. The TDI engine, which was increased from 2.3 to 2.5 litres and which now produces 260 instead of 231 PS, has survived the gruelling conditions just as well as the car itself. We now only have to complete a few jobs in the team organisation and technique; however you know that the last few tenths are the hardest to find in motorsport. We will work very hard over the next eleven months to make the next step, so that we will be even more competitive."

#310 -- Jutta Kleinschmidt (D), 5th place (leg) / 3rd position overall

"It's a very special podium place for me. Because when we joined Volkswagen we knew that we would have to survive a barren spell. Now we've caught up with the competition. The team deserves this success just as Volkswagen does -- everybody approached this project with great commitment and enthusiasm from the first day. We made a good impression and had good results from the very beginning. First of all Robby Gordon led, then Bruno Saby. Later I was on course for a podium finish. A podium finish was our goal and it's absolutely fantastic that it all worked out."

#310 -- Fabrizia Pons (I), 5th place (leg) / 3rd position overall

"The navigation was, as ever, difficult and complicated during my third 'Dakar' together with Jutta Kleinschmidt. The work with Jutta was perfect. I'm really very happy to share third position with her and Volkswagen."

#307 -- Bruno Saby (F), 1st place (leg) / 5th position overall

"I viewed this rally as a test of our competitiveness. And we confirmed exactly that. Volkswagen has made huge steps since last year. Jutta's third place is tremendous. We have also collected a great deal of experience. Difficulties on three different days saw me tumble down the order. We are very pleased that we nevertheless managed to climb back to fifth at the finish."

#307 -- Michel Périn (F), 1st place (leg) / 5th position overall

"It was a good rally. I had a lot of fun in my first event with Bruno Saby; the atmosphere in the cockpit was very good. Bruno is a very pleasant and relaxed human being. It's incredible just how calm it is in the car when you compare it with the speed we are going."

#317 -- Robby Gordon (USA), 30th place (leg) / 12th position overall

"It was a good rally. As we left Germany for Barcelona I said that I wanted to win. To achieve this I pushed very hard from the off and had an accident. Afterwards I got really badly bogged down twice and helped Jutta. So we fell way back. But I have learnt a lot. Five days ago I was depressed and just wanted to go home. Now I want to return and win."

#317 -- Dirk von Zitzewitz (D), 30th place (leg) / 12th position overall

"The 'Dakar' was my debut in a works team. I'm impressed with the logistics and the possibilities; an example was just how quickly our car was repaired after the roll. I'm a little disappointed about our performance. We could have had much more. We should have been calmer, more patient and not so short-sighted. I'm very happy that I was able to tale part. I've learnt a lot and can hardly wait for the next 'Dakar'. I really hope that I get the chance again."

#313 -- Juha Kankkunen (FIN)

"The Dakar Rally lived up to its reputation of being the world's toughest desert rally. The competition was not so strong and the tactics were completely different when I last competed in it 17 years ago -- at that time you could concentrate more on reaching the finish. It was a lot of fun to compete for such a professional team as Volkswagen. It's a shame that the team couldn't be rewarded with a better result for all their efforts. Perhaps we were just a little short on luck and simply lacked experience."

#313 -- Juha Repo (FIN)

"It was my second 'Dakar' competition, and it included every conceivable challenge. The sand storm drastically impaired the visibility and made the navigation more difficult, while the many camel grass sections really tested both man and machine. We had intended to finish in the top six, at the point when we were rather unluckily forced to retire. It's was shame but many positive memories remain -- like the fantastic team that Kris Nissen has put together in such a short time."


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About this article
Series Dakar
Drivers Robby Gordon , Colin McRae , Juha Kankkunen , Jutta Kleinschmidt , Fabrizia Pons , Bruno Saby , Juha Repo , Michel Périn , Kris Nissen
Teams Volkswagen Motorsport