Kris Nissen: "The enthusiasm of the fans justifies our commitment" Wolfsburg (17 January 2010). Second "Dakar" win with TDI technology: Volkswagen successfully defended its title in the world's toughest rally in Argentina and Chile. Volkswagen...
Kris Nissen: "The enthusiasm of the fans justifies our commitment"
Wolfsburg (17 January 2010). Second "Dakar" win with TDI technology: Volkswagen successfully defended its title in the world's toughest rally in Argentina and Chile. Volkswagen claimed a one-two-three podium lockout with Carlos Sainz/Lucas Cruz (E/E), Nasser Al-Attiyah/Timo Gottschalk (Q/D) and Mark Miller/Ralph Pitchford (USA/ZA). Last year's winners Giniel de Villiers/Dirk von Zitzewitz (ZA/D) completed the excellent team performance in a fourth Race Touareg in seventh position. Heading the Volkswagen "Dakar" project is Motorsport Director Kris Nissen. An interview with the 49-year old Dane about the secret of success, strategies and driver personalities.
Was this the hardest Dakar Rally ever for you? Kris Nissen: "It was certainly the hardest 'Dakar' for both the cars and drivers, and which Volkswagen has ever contested. I also believe it was the hardest there has ever been. In contrast, for the team behind the scenes it wasn't as hard physically. Because the team completed its preparations impeccably at home, the Race Touareg mastered everything thrown at it and the service plan also functioned perfectly. These are the reasons why the entire team had less stress than the years before. I even think that with regard to the drivers' gentle driving style and the reliability of the overall package it was the least complicated 'Dakar' since we started. We have just developed permanently over the years."
Which win do you consider to be the most intensive: the one-two in 2009 or the podium lockout in 2010?
"Last year's victory released the pressure associated with having to win the 'Dakar' from the entire team. However, I think that the competition this year was harder. Particularly from the X-raid BMW. The route was also harder this year, which is why I think that this win is of even greater value. Particularly as our drivers fought so hard among themselves all the way to the finish line, I find the 2010 victory the more valuable of the two so far."
Volkswagen started the rally as title holder and favourite. Just how did this influence the daily work?
"Not at all. Before the 2009 Dakar Rally we compiled a manual outlining all the points which we wanted to optimise and worked through it logically. This manual was considerably thinner for the 2010 'Dakar'. What we wanted to change was already completely implemented and tested before the test rallies, the 'Sertões' and the Silk Way Rally. The only thing we were unsure about was the strength of the competition. X-raid BMW was the strong opponent we expected, on the other hand Robby Gordon's Hummer was not as strong as we thought. Also, the Race Touareg proved to be the most reliable car."
One point before the Dakar Rally was to put together two new driver/co-driver duos. It was exactly these two teams which fought for victory. How crucial was this new formation for success?
"I'm convinced that our newcomer Nasser Al-Attiyah did the entire team a world of good. It wasn't just Carlos Sainz switching to his new co-driver Lucas Cruz, who spoke the same language, that brought so much, but it was also a breath of fresh air. I think Carlos Sainz's overall victory was overdue, as he was already capable of winning in 2009 and only lost the Dakar Rally lead due to unfortunate circumstances. However, Carlos Sainz and Lucas Cruz must raise their game in the future to stay ahead of Nasser Al-Attiyah and Timo Gottschalk."
Volkswagen has completely different drivers and co-drivers under contract who have unique personalities and special driving styles. Is this an advantage or disadvantage for the development of the entire team?
"For a team contesting the 'Dakar' it is never advisable to back just one good driver, because these races are very difficult and unpredictable. You have to have more than one iron in the fire. At Volkswagen we have several pairings capable of winning. Depending on the type of terrain it sometimes appears that specific driver personalities have an advantage. However, winning a stage often has much to with luck and circumstances on the day. You can only make a direct comparison of the drivers with the same material within the same team. On the whole the variety pushes a factory team like Volkswagen forward."
During the 2010 "Dakar" Volkswagen allowed one of the most exciting duels in the event's history to run its natural course. How important was it for Volkswagen to have a fair fight for overall victory?
"We didn't only win the race, but we also made the race. Nevertheless, I believe that you first have to conquer the 'Dakar' before you can win it. We knew this beforehand. During the event a Volkswagen trio initially established itself at the head of the field with an advantage of more than two hours, the duel between Nasser Al-Attiyah and Carlos Sainz resulted from this. However, you can't plan a 'Dakar' and take wins into account. For this reason I am of the opinion that the decision to give every driver the chance of winning was correct. For the team and also for the rally itself. I think the fans' enthusiasm proves this."
As Motorsport Director how can you minimise the risk for the brand despite three potential winners with a strong will for victory?
"We are a committed and established team. Over the course of the years every driver has made mistakes and learnt from these. Each driver reconsidered and implemented our 'Dakar' motto every day, 'To finish first, first you have to finish'. This is the key at the Dakar Rally: You can't make good a bad day."
The Race Touareg was credited with the most stage wins during the 2010 "Dakar", and also proved to be the most reliable car in the field. In your opinion which of these points proved crucial for overall victory?
"It's very clear: You can only win a 'Dakar' if you have a reliable car that is fast enough and you have drivers who can handle this. You don't have to win every stage to lead at the end. It was apparent this year with the level of competition as close as it was that it was always going to be a disadvantage, after winning the previous day's stage, to be the first car on track. A key to the success of Carlos Sainz and Lucas Cruz was to have a good stage every day and not necessarily go for the win."
Volkswagen has an extremely closely-knit team and has worked on the documentation of every individual step of the procedure over the years. What part does this play in the entire process "Dakar" victory?
"No human being or team can have so much luck as to just win the 'Dakar' by turning up, which is why it is immensely important that the individual parts of a team mesh perfectly together. The team and I have spent many hours working together to optimise the procedures, to respect the processes and to be a little better every day. A team resembles a chain. If there is a weak link then you have to strengthen it as a team, because if it breaks you have a problem. I think we implemented this perfectly last year."
Many critics are of the opinion that a "Dakar" must be held on the African continent. How would you assess the last two South American "Dakars"?
"First and foremost the 'Dakar' is more a term than the definition of a place. If you take the rally's history into consideration it's apparent that several events didn't start or finish in Dakar. A 'Dakar' belongs in a region where there is organisational security and challenging terrain. If there is also a large market for manufacturers in this region then this is a bonus. However, the first two factors are the most important. Unfortunately, this currently isn't the case in Africa. I think that the 'Dakar' belongs in countries like Argentina, Chile, Brazil, Russia or India. The last two South American 'Dakars' proved that the stages are just as tough or tougher than in Africa. It doesn't need any more."