Monday, January 15, 2007

Dakar Rally Update: Volkswagen hangs on to top spot

Although Volkswagen has lost the second spot in the eighth stage, Volkswagen continues owns and excel in the first place. Indeed, De Villiers/von Zitzewitz still continues to dominate the first position in the Rally, expanding the duo's lead by 29.34 minutes to just over 31 minutes ahead of Mitsubishi. Sainz/Périn however fell back to fourth from second after experiencing a steering problem. This set them back by just over an hour.

The ninth stage begins in Tichit and ends in Nema on January 15.

Source: Volkswagen Motorsport
WOLFSBURG, Germany-On the 29th Dakar Rally’s longest special stage with a length of 589 kilometres Volkswagen further expanded its lead: The factory pairing Giniel de Villiers/Dirk von Zitzewitz (South Africa/Germany) on the eighth leg from Atar to Tichit in Mauritania set the best time of 6.35 minutes ahead of the French Mitsubishi driver Stéphane Peterhansel.

Having clinched his third stage victory, Giniel de Villiers in the Race Touareg expanded his overall advantage by 29.34 minutes to 31.13 minutes.

New runner-up on the leader board is Stéphane Peterhansel, after Carlos Sainz suffered a 1:04-hour loss due to a power steering defect, finishing the stage in seventh position. The Spaniard and his French co-driver Michel Périn dropped from second to fourth place overall behind de Villiers, Peterhansel and Luc Alphand (France/Mitsubishi). Mark Miller/Ralph Pitchford (USA/South Africa) in the Race Touareg sporting the livery of partners Red Bull, Castrol as well as BP/Aral finished the stage in fifth place with a 27.22-minute gap. Despite punctures and navigation errors costing the English-speaking duo valuable time, it moved up from eighth to seventh position overall.

In the evening of this so-called marathon leg regular service by the team, which travels directly to the finish of Monday's stage in Nema, is prohibited. In Tichit drivers and co-drivers, with support from the race truck crews, have to prepare the Race Touareg prototypes for the ninth stage that will take them over a 497-kilometre distance to Nema on Monday.

Volkswagen has been continuously leading the 29th edition of the Dakar Rally with the Race Touareg 2 since the event started on 6 January, having claimed six of the eight possible stage victories so far.

Kris Nissen (Volkswagen Motorsport Director)
"Giniel and Dirk showed an outstanding performance yet again. With more than a six-and-a-half-minute advantage they won the special stage ahead of a Mitsubishi without our rival having encountered any problem that we're aware of. This is a feat we weren't able to perform on such demanding stages in the past. Carlos' loss of time is really regrettable. We'll only be able to find out the exact technical cause after the arrival of the race trucks whose crews will perform the repair. Mark had an average day on which he lost time due to tyre punctures and orientation errors. Nevertheless, he gained one position. In the overall classification, considering our 31-minute advantage over Mitsubishi, we continue having good prospects.”

#301 – Giniel de Villiers (RSA), 1st place (leg) / 1st place overall
"The stage was very difficult. The first line of dunes was soft although the organisers had announced them as featuring hard ground. The second line of dunes was hard whereas the organisers had been talking about soft sand. So we stopped beforehand and deflated the tyres which cost us four minutes. Today lots of stones were hidden in the sand. 60 % of the leg was stony ground. Physically, the day was very strenuous. Despite this adversity we had an altogether good drive. Compliments to Dirk who did a great job of navigating.”

#303 – Carlos Sainz (E), 7th place (leg) / 4th place overall
"The first 300 kilometres went well and we were already approaching Stéphane Peterhansel. Then fluid started leaking from the power steering system. We stopped and tried to repair the defect but had no chance. So we had no choice but to tackle this long leg with sheer muscle power applied to the steering wheel, which was extremely tough. I'm sad that we lost two places.”

#305 – Mark Miller (USA), 5th place (leg) / 7th place overall
"This was a really nice day in the desert with a special stage leading through a breath-taking landscape. After 17 kilometres, though, I had to change my first damaged tyre. Shortly thereafter we met Carlos, who'd gotten stuck in the sand but been able to get out on his own and just started to drive off again. We followed him for 140 kilometres. Then we hit a stone and had to change another tyre. Two minor navigation errors unfortunately cost us another five to ten minures.”

Snippets from the Volkswagen bivouac

- Separate ways:
While the participants of the rally are going from Atar to Tichit on the first part of the marathon stage Sunday evening the remainder of the squad is headed for Nema, the finish of Monday's ninth stage – roughly 1,500 kilometres away. On Sunday the service crew travels part of the distance, stopping in Kiffa. There, the vehicle engineers and technicians can always be reached via satellite telephone in the event that the rally drivers and race truck crews need any telephonic advice or assistance. At the finish of the marathon leg, apart from the drivers and co-drivers of the Volkswagen Race Touareg prototypes and the crews of the three Volkswagen race trucks (three members each), only Volkswagen Motorsport Director Kris Nissen, Assistant Team Manager Jean-Bernard Vieu and regulations specialist Michael Bernard will be represented.

- Camping: On Sunday the drivers will be sleeping in the bivouac instead of a hotel room for the first time. Ari Vatanen regrets his retirement on the seventh leg not only for sporting reasons. The Finn also has a special relationship to camping – for him, spending the night in a tent is like staying in a "thousand-star hotel”. In the French film "Camping” directed by Fabien Onteniente, which delighted cinema audiences in 2006 with a funny account of a holiday in a tent, Vatanen was one of the supporting actors. The four-time "Dakar” winner played himself. The popular French actor Claude Brasseur was another former "Dakar” winner featured in the film.

- First total loss: In November 2003 a Race Touareg made its test debut in Morocco – Chassis RT01. In more than three years Volkswagen – in 17 rallies and numerous tests – did not lose any of the twelve vehicles built – until Ari Vatanen's car, Chassis RT16, was destroyed by fire on 12 January. All Race Touareg prototypes, factory- as well as customer-fielded cars, have been entered in rallies 48 times to date, with merely nine retirements having occurred. At 81.25 percent the rally prototype powered by a TDI diesel engine has achieved a remarkable rate of finishes and high level of reliability in this rough sport.

- Early return: Ari Vatanen and co-driver Fabrizia Pons flew back home via Paris on Sunday after their retirement on the seventh stage. "Unfortunately, this wasn't my ‘Dakar' but I hope that this rally will be a success for Volkswagen,” said Ari Vatanen. Fabrizia Pons added: "We'd like to come to Dakar for a victory celebration…”

Three questions to Eduard Weidl, Technical Director of Volkswagen Motorsports
What type of work was done on the Volkswagen Race Touareg 2 on rest day?

"According to schedule, we changed the gearboxes, differentials, drive shafts, turbochargers and numerous smaller wearing parts such as brake linings, brake discs and hose connections as well as several electrical components. Before the rally, we established an exact schedule for these service jobs and did not have to perform any additional work.”

How long did it take the team to do this work on rest day?
"A total of 24 hours, in other words from Friday afternoon to Saturday afternoon. The different types of jobs were divided among all the team members, ensuring that everyone got their necessary period of rest. On Saturday afternoon we took all the Race Touareg prototypes out for short test drives. All of them were running perfectly.”

The day of rest is followed immediately by the marathon stage. How has the team prepared for the two legs without regular service as far as the technical side is concerned?

"It was important to plan the intervals for changing component such that as few scheduled maintenance as possible needed to be done on the marathon day. Apart from refuelling, changing tyres and performing a check there's nothing to be done – unless something unusual happens on the leg. We discussed all the tasks precisely with the vehicle engineers and discussed the detailed work with the three race truck crews as well. We have covered all functions in the race trucks two-fold in the event that one of the trucks should not arrive in Tichit on time.”

Standings after stage 8, Atar (MR) – Tichit (MR); 589/626 km stage 8/overall

Pos.; Team; Vehicle; Stage 8; Total time
1. Giniel de Villiers/Dirk von Zitzewitz (RSA/D); Volkswagen Race Touareg 2; 7h31m52s (1st); 27h35m53s
2. Stéphane Peterhansel/Jean-P. Cottret (F/F); Mitsubishi Pajero Evolution; 7h38m27s (2nd) + 31m13s
3. Luc Alphand/Gilles Picard (F/F); Mitsubishi Pajero Evolution; 7h41m03s (3rd) + 43s04m
4. Carlos Sainz/Michel Périn (E/F); Volkswagen Race Touareg 2; 8h36m04s (7th) + 1h05m51s
5. Nasser Al-Attiyah/Alain Guehennec (QT/F); BMW X3; 7h44m01s (4th) + 1h44m14s
6. Jean-Louis Schlesser/Arnaud Debron (F/F); Schlesser Buggy; 8h20m42s (6 h) + 2h00m59s
7. Mark Miller/Ralph Pitchford (USA/RSA); Volkswagen Race Touareg 2; 7h59m14s (5th) + 2h18m01s
8. Hiroshi Masuoka/Pascal Maimon (J/F); Mitsubishi Pajero Evolution; 9h00m55s (9th) + 2h40m33s
9. Carlos Sousa/Andreas Schulz (P/D); Volkswagen Race Touareg 2; 9h10m01s (10th) + 4h16m35s
10. Robby Gordon/Andy Grider (USA/USA); Hummer H3; 8h46m36s (8th) + 6h23m17s

Coming up…

Montag, 15 January, Tichit (MR) – Nema (MR): 494 km stage/497 km total. The ninth special stage of the Dakar Rally is a true classic. The route leads through the desert. On flat tracks orientation is difficult, which makes navigation an extremely difficult task. The terrain is varied: In addition to a large amount of sandy stretches, the stage contains stony tracks and camel grass hills as well.

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