Olympic gold medallist Christopher Zeller: "An incredible experience" Wolfsburg (11 September 2008). The German national team hockey player and the "Dakar" driver: Olympic gold medallist Christopher Zeller had an unusual day as co-driver ...
Olympic gold medallist Christopher Zeller: "An incredible experience"
Wolfsburg (11 September 2008). The German national team hockey player and the "Dakar" driver: Olympic gold medallist Christopher Zeller had an unusual day as co-driver alongside Volkswagen factory Mark Miller (USA) in the cockpit of the Race Touareg. The 24-year old who recently led the German team to victory over Spain after scoring in the Olympic hockey final, took over the cross country rallying co-driving duties on the first stage of the second-round of the Dakar Series in Portugal, which doubles as the Volkswagen team's dress rehearsal for the Dakar Rally in South America at the beginning of January.
"Having Christopher Zeller as co-driver in the Race Touareg was an interesting experience for all involved," says Volkswagen Motorsport Director Kris Nissen. "Christopher approached this task in an extremely professional manner and did a really good job as Mark Miller's navigator. For our team, of which great demands are made of its team spirit under extreme conditions during the forthcoming 'Dakar', the visit of a world class team athlete was also an informative encounter."
Olympic gold medallist and World Champion Christopher Zeller gave an account of his run in the powerful 280 hp Volkswagen Race Touareg during the second round of the Dakar Series in Portugal.
Christopher Zeller, your first day as rally co-driver in the Race Touareg: What was the most memorable moment?
"Standing at the start was already exciting enough, especially as I had absolutely no idea what to expect. However, you can't just choose one specific moment - rather the entire journey alongside Mark Miller was an awesome experience. Another great moment was after we'd reached the finish and Mark was satisfied with my job as co-driver. I really felt satisfied after this, particularly as we got lost immediately on the liaison stage on the way to the start. At that moment I thought: 'Oh! This could be really tricky'. This mistake really got me focussed - in the end we made good progress through the stage."
Please complete the following sentence, "As of today cross country rallying means for me..."
"-- that I must bow down before the drivers and co-drivers. To fight for seconds on the track with such precision, and with such stress and strain in the cockpit is a fantastic sporting achievement. I was well impressed."
What is so fascinating about cross country rallying and "Dakar"
"When you peer through the screen and see the bumps, stones and rough surfaces, and how the drivers' shoot over them at incredible speed, position the car - you really have to be talented. For me as co-driver the seating position in these purpose built cars is an experience for itself. And in the same way just how small the cockpit is and the heat and noise. You can sense the robustness of the cars, but also that is high-tech."
Hockey is a team game and in motorsport teamwork is also an important component. To just what extent can you compare these two disciplines?
"Obviously, I didn't get such an in-depth view, but what really blew me away was just how well I was received within the team and just how everybody made an effort to make sure that I did a good job. Everybody asked if they could help me or explain something. This is real teamwork where everybody pulls in the same direction. However, after this day I think that I can appreciate the relationship between driver and co-driver and this blind trust. I think that this counts even more in the cockpit than on the hockey where it is also depends on a high level of trust. To be precise, you need the other person in order to perform well yourself. I think this is the closest parallel."
How difficult is it for a physically fit athlete like you to ignore the knocks in the cockpit, to keep concentration and to give clear orders under stress?
"It's very dependent on the conditions. At some points Mark just drove flat-out over the bumps - I was almost totally occupied with keeping my body stable. In such a situation I couldn't read the road book, which was the case four or five times. Otherwise things went very well; I could navigate ahead and give him, as usual, the countdown to the next turn. I think you have to be very fit to be able to concentrate on reading the road book and ignore the knocks in the car."
You are very enthusiastic in your description of the day. Maybe you've got the bug and we could see you at rallies in the future as competitor?
"I think I 'started' a little late for this. My motto was always: If I do something then I do it properly, and to compete professionally in such a complex sport you have to start early."
And if it should happen again: Would you rather be co-driver of driver?
"Obviously the role of driver would be very tempting. But, I fear that I don't have the skills that Mark Miller has for example. Rally drivers are true professionals - I don't think that I would offer them any serious competition at this level."