Saturday, January 13, 2007

Dakar Rally Update: Volkswagen clinches first and second; lets go of third

After owning the first, second, and third places for many days now, Volkswagen has let third place slip after the sixth stage in the Dakar Rally. As well, the person at lead changes as well. De Villiers/von Zitzewitz are now first and Sainz/Périn are now second. Sousa/Schulz let go of third and fell back to ninth position after the sixth.

The Rally will be stopping at Atâr, Mauritania for a day of R&R but will be picking up where they left off on the 14th and will be heading to Tichit, Mauritania for the seventh stage.

Jump for complete Rally details.

Source: Volkswagen Motorsport
WOLFSBURG, Germany - Volkswagen maintains its one-two lead but a change at the top of the leader board before the rest day makes the 29th Dakar Rally even more thrilling: Giniel de Villiers/Dirk von Zitzewitz took the lead, having clinched their second stage victory on the way from Zouérat to Atâr in Mauritania.

The South African-German duo that won the stage ahead of French Mitsubishi driver Stéphane Peterhansel and the Spanish-French Volkswagen factory team of Carlos Sainz/Michel Périn is lying 1.39 minutes in front of Sainz/Périn after seven stages in the Race Touareg. Up to the halfway point Volkswagen scored five of seven possible stage victories, with the Race Touareg 2 having maintained the lead throughout the rally since it started on 6 January.

With Mark Miller/Ralph Pitchford (USA/South Africa) in the factory Race Touareg in eighth position and Carlos Sousa/Andy Schulz (Portugal/Germany) in the Race Touareg of Team Lagos in ninth, a total of four Volkswagen contenders are among the top ten of the overall classification. Both teams suffered major time losses on the seventh day of the rally. For four-time "Dakar” winner Ari Vatanen and his Italian co-driver Fabrizia Pons the rally ended prematurely because vehicle caught fire. Due to a sand storm, the seventh stage was shortened from the original length of 542 to 407 kilometres.

Kris Nissen (Volkswagen Motorsport Director)
"The difficult part of the rally only started today. This makes the fact that after another stage victory two of our cars are running in front even better. We have further expanded our advantage over the best Mitsubishi. We are fully aware of the difficulties of the special stages in Mauritania, and now we’re starting the rest day at the top of the leader board for the first time. The second week of the rally will again start with very tough stages. Only there the decision will be made. On the day of rest we’re going to prepare ourselves as best we can."

#301 – Giniel de Villiers (RSA), 1st place (leg) / 1st place overall

"I’m happy that we’ve taken the lead by claiming stage victory on such a difficult day. After ten kilometres we took the wrong way, after that, we formed a group of vehicles with Stéphane Peterhansel, Robby Gordon and Carlos Sainz. The car was running very well, even on an 80-kilometer leg across camel grass it felt like a charm.”

#303 – Carlos Sainz (E), 3rd place (leg) / 2nd place overall
"Visibility was absolutely poor in the sand storm today, nevertheless the day generally went quite well for us. We lost the lead because twice we got stuck in the dunes. In these incidents the improved sand panels and, above all, our intensive practice paid off tremendously because we got out in a relatively short time. When things threatened to get tough again a third time we stopped in time to let some air out of the tyres.”

#305 – Mark Miller (USA), 11th place (leg) / 8th place overall
"After 75 kilometres we had a fuel pressure problem. Ultimately, we had to stop and analyse the cause. Fortunately we managed to repair the defect, even though it cost us 45 minutes. After that, the TDI engine was running perfectly again. When we reached the finish we were surprised to still be in eighth position overall.”


Snippets from the Volkswagen bivouac

- The longest day: At 817 kilometres, the eleventh leg of the Dakar Rally from Tan Tan to Zouerat was the longest of all, and it turned the night into day: At five a.m. the first team members got up to warm up the engines of the four Race Touareg diesel prototypes in preparation for the team members’ departure. In the evening the factory drivers arrived at the bivouac at around 5 p.m. where no technical crew was waiting for them for a change. The reason was that the accompanying squad was only allowed to start its journey after the competition vehicles. On account of the 720-kilometre service route the service vehicles did not reach the day’s destination in Mauritania until after 6 p.m.

- Guests in the bivouac: On rest day (13 January) in Dakar the Volkswagen factory team will be visited by 42 VIP guests and journalists flying to Atar to meet with the squad and Volkswagen factory drivers at the Dakar Rally’s halfway point. In the morning, two "meet the team” events with different groups of guests are on the agenda. In addition, the Volkswagen drivers are scheduled for a series of interviews and other sessions. "For us, the rest day is also a good opportunity to sort our baggage for the second half of the rally and to sleep a little longer,” said co-driver Dirk von Zitzewitz.

- No rest for technical crew: The day of rest in Atar means a small break to recharge their batteries for Volkswagen’s factory drivers. The factory team’s mechanics, though, are in for a long night because at the halfway point the Volkswagen Race Touareg 2 prototypes are subjected to technical inspections and prepared for the seven stages before the finish in Dakar on 21 January. Furthermore, scheduled changes of the gearbox, differentials, brake disks and steering box are on the agenda as well as thorough inside and outside cleaning of the vehicles.


Three questions to Dieter Depping, driver of a race trucks in the Volkswagen team

As a three-time German Rally Champion you’re making your debut in the race truck. How are you feeling at the halfway point?
"I’m surprised because I hadn’t expected to be in for such a rough and bumpy ride at the wheel of a race truck. In the beginning I was having a difficult time driving through dry rivers and across heavy rocks at 20 kph – in classical rally sport this is impossible. Another new thing for me was to be driving through the dust kicked up by the other vehicles. Then, in Morocco, I had a really great duel with the truck of the Mitsubishi team. I followed it for more than 150 kilometres and waited for the perfect time to overtake it.”

How did you prepare for this rally?
"This is my first time driving a truck in a competition. Before that, during test drives in Tunisia, I drove a truck on sand and already feel very comfortable with the vehicle.”

The race trucks are seen as "blue angels”, you’re allowed to rush out to help the Race Touareg 2 contenders during the competition. Have you been called yet?
"Fortunately, the four Race Touareg 2 vehicles have not needed our help yet. We merely pulled one of the race trucks of our team that had gotten stuck out of the sand. Still, we maintain a high level of concentration. Our mission is very demanding because we have to be very quick in order to deliver help swiftly, if necessary, but at the same time we must not take any risks ourselves. On the marathon leg we’ll be the only service allowed on the evening of 14 January.”


Standings after stage 7, Zouerat (MR) – Atar (MR); 407/580 km stage 7/overall

Pos.; Team; Vehicle; Stage 7; Total time
1. Giniel de Villiers/Dirk von Zitzewitz (RSA/D); Volkswagen Race Touareg 2; 4h00m46s (1st); 20h04m01s
2. Carlos Sainz/Michel Périn (E/F); Volkswagen Race Touareg 2; 4h05m36s (3rd) + 1m39s

3. Stéphane Peterhansel/Jean-P. Cottret (F/F); Mitsubishi Pajero Evolution; 4h03m32s (2nd) + 24m38s
4. Luc Alphand/Gilles Picard (F/F); Mitsubishi Pajero Evolution; 4h13m55s (6th) + 33m53s
5. Hiroshi Masuoka/Pascal Maimon (J/F); Mitsubishi Pajero Evolution; 4h11m04s (4th) + 1h11m30s
6. Jean-Louis Schlesser/Arnaud Debron (F/F); Schlesser Buggy; 4h47m16s (9th) + 1h12m09s
7. Nasser Al-Attiyah/Alain Guehennec (QT/F); BMW X3; 4h12m30s (5th) + 1h32m05s
8. Mark Miller/Ralph Pitchford (USA/RSA); Volkswagen Race Touareg 2; 4h59m43s (11th) + 1h50m39s
9. Carlos Sousa/Andreas Schulz (P/D); Volkswagen Race Touareg 2; 6h28m20s (42 nd) + 2h38m26s
10. Jose Monterde/Jean-Marie Lurquin (E/B); BMW X5; 5h29m01s (15 th) + 4h03m51s


Coming up…

Saturday, 13 January: rest day in Atar (MR).
Sunday, 14 January, Atar (MR) – Tichit (MR): 589 km stage/626 km overall. The Dakar Rally’s longest special stage is also the first part of the marathon leg. At the stage finish in Tichit merely the drivers of the four Volkswagen Race Touareg 2 cars, their co-drivers and the race truck crews registered in the truck classification are allowed to work on the rally vehicles. The eighth leg of the Dakar Rally leads across stony terrain and lots of sand. In the meantime the accompanying squad on 14 January will be travelling directly from Atar to Nema where the racing vehicles are expected to arrive Monday evening (15 January).

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