Volkswagen one-two-three: Sainz strikes back, but Al-Attiyah maintains lead
Wolfsburg (11 January 2011). With their one-two-three stage victory the Volkswagen factory drivers continue to keep the battle at the head of the Dakar Rally field exciting: Nasser Al-Attiyah/Timo Gottschalk (Q/D), who hold the overall lead in a Race Touareg 3 after nine stages from Carlos Sainz/Lucas Cruz (E/E), staged a no-holds-barred battle for seconds with their Spanish team mates. With his fifth stage victory Sainz moved to within 3 minutes 18 seconds of the leader after losing the top spot yesterday - a tiny value according to "Dakar" standards.
Today's stage of the Dakar Rally ran around Copiapo. Al-Attiyah, the rally professional form Qatar, initially led. As yesterday's winner he had to open the stage. Disbelieving faces then after 63 stage kilometres: The favourites passed the second control point with times identical to the second. Thereafter Sainz pulled away and won by 1 minute 56 seconds. A tyre failure later caused Nasser Al-Attiyah to drop back, however the Arab used his skills as dune expert to reduce the gap to Sainz again. As a result the diesel powered Race Touareg has won eight of the nine Dakar Rally stages held so far. Volkswagen has topped the overall standings without interruption since the rally has started.
Giniel de Villiers/Dirk von Zitzewitz (ZA/D) and Mark Miller/Ralph Pitchford (USA/ZA), who drive two other Race Touareg cars, finished the stage in third and fifth positions respectively. Last year's winner de Villiers strengthened his third place in the process, while Miller remains fifth in the rally. The day's fourth fastest time went to Volkswagen's closest rival: Stephane Peterhansel in the X-raid-BMW arrived at the finish 11 minutes 14 seconds behind and remains fourth overall.
The ninth stage was reduced from the original 235 kilometres to 207. It nevertheless offered the typical varied "Dakar" terrain: Hard sand and dune sections with camel grass vegetation to begin, stony gravel sections with a dry river bed to cross in the middle sector and more sandy dune crossings to conclude formed the character of this special stage. Lots of knocks and bangs shook the drivers who all emphasised the physical efforts. Original comments from Timo Gottschalk, co-driver of Nasser Al-Attiyah: "Today absolutely everything hurts."
Kris Nissen (Volkswagen Motorsport Director)
"Yesterday's stage was extremely difficult and many competitors couldn't cope with it - but all four Race Touareg cars got through it very well just as they managed it again today. Today's stage was also demanding, even though it was significantly shorter. The last few days have shown the Race Touareg 3 to be the measure of all things as the best and most competitive car. Together with our first rate drivers and co-drivers this is currently the best team in cross country rallying and one of the best teams worldwide. At the moment this team is simply unbeatable."
#300 - Carlos Sainz (E), 1st place leg / 2nd position
"A short but certainly no easy 'Dakar' day. After some kilometres we caught up our team mate Nasser Al-Attiyah who had opened the stage. In a dry river bed we took the opportunity to overtake him. Afterwards we lost contact because it would appear he had a puncture. However, in the dunes he was able to catch up again. He must have been really flying there. Tomorrow we have to open the stage. The dunes of Fiambala have always played a crucial role over the previous years. We are not so far behind and the tables could turn again."
#302 - Nasser Al-Attiyah (Q), 2nd place leg / 1st position
"Today we lost about two minutes. This is just the way things run when you have to open the stage. We had no tracks for orientation and so my team mate was able to pass us relatively early. As we were running in his dust cloud we hit a stone and had to change a damaged tyre as a result. In the dunes I was able to close the gap again and crossed the finish line almost at the same time as him. Tomorrow Carlos has the disadvantage of opening the stage. If we can catch up with him we only need to keep him in our sights in order to get back the two minutes again that we've lost today. However, this is just theory."
#304 - Mark Miller (USA), 5th place leg / 5th position
"To begin this stage we found a good rhythm and could hold a constant gap to our team mate Giniel de Villiers who had started in front of us. We had to overtake a motorbike rider in an off-road section during the first third of the stage and without any apparent reason got a puncture. Immediately after we were very cautious when crossing a scree field so as not to take any risks. I think this explains the deficit on today's stage."
#308 - Giniel de Villiers (ZA), 3rd place leg / 3rd
"Today we again made up time on Stephane Peterhansel in the BMW. This was important. On this short but nevertheless punchy stage it was all about getting through it without mistakes and to look after the material. We managed this. Towards the end we reduced our pace a little because as my neck was painful after we got shaken to bits in the car beforehand. Nothing that our physiotherapist can't put right, but enough to make us a little more cautious today."
Number of the day
On the ninth stage of the 2011 Dakar Rally, the loop around Copiapo, the longest jump over a crest by Carlos Sainz was exactly 15.43 metres. The value was logged by the sensors on the Race Touareg 3 suspension, which are extended completely in such a case and therefore indicate a spring travel of zero millimetres to the engineer.
Did you know that...
... the Dakar Rally stops in Copiapo, the scene of one of Chile's greatest moments when 33 trapped miners were rescued in the middle of October 2010? One of the rescue capsules used successfully to release the miners from a depth of 700 metres formed the centre of the "Dakar" bivouac: The "Fenix 3".
... the ninth stage of the Dakar Rally is the actual rest day for the mechanics? For the first time the "Dakar" Armada remains in the same location thanks to the start and finish of the start being in Copiapo. The advantage: A service route covering hundreds of kilometres must not be completed. In contrast the so-called rest day three days ago in Arica actually represented the busiest day to date for the service crew.
... Volkswagen transports 350 tyres of the type BFGoodrich "All Terrain" pre-mounted on rims to the Rally Dakar for the four Race Touareg 3 cars entered? From the logistic angle the team is in credit: For stages ten, eleven, twelve and 13 there are still 140 units available.
Coming up next...
Wednesday, 12 January: On the road to Chilecito the Volkswagen teams and their rivals are confronted by the notorious white dunes close to the Argentinian town Fiambala. Driver skill is just as important here as faultless navigation to reach the stage finish "Little Chile", bordered to the west by the Sierra de Famatina and the east by the Sierra Velasco, as stage winner.