Thursday, January 11, 2007

Dakar Rally Update: Volkswagen stays on top after sixth

Volkswagen continues their 1-2-3 lead at the Dakar Rally after completing the sixth stage. The top three drivers remain in the same place standings with Sainz/Périn at first, de Villiers/von Zitzewitz at second, and Sousa/Schulz at third.

The seventh stage in Mauritania begins at Zouerat and ends in Atar, a total of 542 kilometers. As the second longest stage, drivers can expect a lot of sand dunes.

Jump for complete Rally details.

Source: Volkswagen Motorsport
WOLFSBURG, Germany - The Race Touareg continues Volkswagen’s domination at the head of the leader board after six of the Dakar Rally’s 15 stages: The Spaniard Carlos Sainz and his French co-driver Michel Périn lead the Dakar Rally now for the fourth day in succession.

On the extremely fast stage from Tan Tan in Morocco to Zouérat in Mauritania, at 817 kilometres also the longest of the rally, Sainz recorded the fourth fastest time. Under these conditions the buggies were able to exploit their weight and power advantages granted to them by the regulations– the American Robby Gordon won from the Frenchman Jean-Louis Schlesser. The third fastest time went to Giniel de Villiers in a Volkswagen Race Touareg. The South African and his German co-driver Dirk von Zitzewitz clawed back 25 seconds from the overall leader and now lie second 3:11 minutes behind Sainz.

The Portuguese-German duo Carlos Sousa/Andreas Schulz still hold third position in the Lagos Team Race Touareg 2, who recorded the sixth fastest stage time. Mark Miller/Ralph Pitchford (USA/South Africa) from the Volkswagen factory team completed the stage 12:38 minutes behind in ninth position and, in doing so, improved their overall position by two places to eighth on the tough stage, which saw several top teams tumble down the leader board. Ari Vatanen/Fabrizia Pons (Finland/Italy) reached the finish in 56th place even though they could only drive their Race Touareg in second gear and after having stopped to help Guerlain Chicherit (France), who had had an accident, and after towing his BMW team mate Jutta Kleinschmidt (German) to the finish.

For photo's, click here.

Kris Nissen (Volkswagen Motorsport Director)
"We can be satisfied at the conclusion of this long and exciting day, because three Race Touaregs are leading the field. The fast sections were made for the buggies, which have more power, greater suspension travel and which also weigh less. These advantages were clearly demonstrated by Robby Gordon’s victory in today’s stage from Jean-Louis Schlesser. By finishing third and fourth on today’s stage we also showed that we can keep Mitsubishi at bay in Mauritania.”

#301 – Giniel de Villiers (RSA), 3rd place (leg) / 2nd position overall
"An incredibly fast start to the stage followed by a more technically challenging and tricky mid section and rounded off by a fast final section. I drove completely alone and didn’t catch anybody up. It was only at the end that we noticed a dust trail in the distance created by Stéphane Peterhansel. The navigation was very easy today.”

#303 – Carlos Sainz (E), 4th place (leg) / 1st position overall
"The stage ran absolutely perfectly for us, I’m really pleased. It wasn’t easy to forge a path through the camel grass, since the motorbikes had taken a completely different path that was hardly drivable for cars. The first 180 kilometres were very fast, followed by sandy section and then dunes again. I hope things can continue in this vane for Michel and I and naturally for Volkswagen as well."

#305 – Mark Miller (USA), 9th place (leg) / 8th position overall
"We followed Carlos Sousa through the dunes and camel grass sections at the beginning of the stage. It was going well, the navigation was no problem – it was great fun. We lost quite a lot of time towards the end, but in spite of this we have improved to eighth position overall.”

#308 – Ari Vatanen (FIN), 72nd place (leg)
"I felt as if I was twenty-years old again in the first 190 kilometres, particularly as things were running fantastically well. We suddenly had a problem with the gearbox and could only drive in second gear. We stopped at the scene of the accident where Guerlain Chicherit had rolled his car and looked after him for ten minutes. We continued in second gear again. We stopped 30 kilometres before the stage finish to help Jutta Kleinschmidt whose BMW had ground to a halt due to electrical problems. We towed her to the finish.”

Snippets from Volkswagen bivouac

- Junior in truck: The 22-year old Belgian François Verbist, who drives one of the three Volkswagen factory team Race-Truck’s, is the youngest Race-Truck driver on this year’s rally. For the son of Ari Vatanen’s race engineer, René Verbist, it is his third "Dakar” event in the Volkswagen factory team, after working as riding mechanic in a Race-Truck in 2005 and 2006. Verbist junior can normally be found pounding around the race track back at home: In Belgium, he has already competed in several one-make cup races and with a Porsche in the domestic GT-Championship.

- In top condition: The 78 Volkswagen team members are still in top physical condition in spite of the stresses and strains. "There hasn’t been a single illness or injury worthy of note”, stresses team Doctor Beate Zerbe. The anaesthetist is happy so far: "Everybody started the rally in good condition, our household rules concerning everything from hydration to hygiene have been followed to the letter and unnecessary risks are avoided.” The only medical problems to date: Several colds that were carried from Europe, and diarrhoea and plasters for small scrapes and scratches.

- No pain no gain: The road books are only distributed in the evening before the following day’s stage and are prepared by a pair of co-drivers working together as a team. "For example, the near 400 kilometre stage from Tan Tan to Zouerat consists of approximately 90 pages filled with route notes”, calculates Michel Périn. "On the previous two evenings I spent between six and seven hours to prepare the books exactly as I wanted them.” Critical points are marked in colour, junctions or distances in other colours.”

Three questions to Volkswagen factory driver Carlos Sainz

This is your second appearance at the Dakar Rally and after winning two stages you are leading. How do you feel?
"The rally has run very well for us until now. We are delighted to have won a second stage, but the really difficult stages are still to come.”

Have you been able to benefit from the experience you gained last year?
"Absolutely, I feel much more familiar with cross country rallying now. However, I must confess that the harder stage surfaces we encountered in Portugal and Morocco are easier for me, which is why I’m even more intrigued about the sand looming up over the next few days.”

How big is the difference between the 2006 Volkswagen Race Touareg and your new car?
"A great many improvements were made to the Race Touareg 2 last year. In my opinion the 2007 Race Touareg 2 is a completely different animal. I’m very satisfied.”

Standings after stage 6, Tan Tan (MA) – Zouerat (MR); 394/817 km stage 6/total

Pos.; Team; Vehicle; Stage 6; Total time
1. Carlos Sainz/Michel Périn (E/F); Volkswagen Race Touareg 2; 3h06m14s (4th); 16h00m04s
2. Giniel de Villiers/Dirk von Zitzewitz (RSA/D); Volkswagen Race Touareg 2; 3h05m49s (3rd) + 3m11s
3. Carlos Sousa/Andreas Schulz (P/D); Volkswagen Race Touareg 2; 3h09m00s (7th) + 14m03s

4. Luc Alphand/Gilles Picard (F/F); Mitsubishi Pajero Evolution; 3h09m42s (8th) + 23m55s
5. Stéphane Peterhansel/Jean-P. Cottret (F/F); Mitsubishi Pajero Evolution; 3h06m46s (5th) + 25m03s
6. Jean-Louis Schlesser/Arnaud Debron (F/F); Schlesser Buggy; 2h59m14s (2nd) + 28m50s
7. Nani Roma/Lucas Cruz Senra (E/E); Mitsubishi Pajero Evolution; 3h27m29s (14th) + 37m31s
8. Mark Miller/Ralph Pitchford (USA/RSA); Volkswagen Race Touareg 2; 3h11m35s (9th) + 54m53s
9. Hiroshi Masuoka/Pascal Maimon (J/F); Mitsubishi Pajero Evolution; 3h45m18s (23rd) + 1h04m23s
10. Nasser Al-Attiyah/Alain Guehennec (QT/F); BMW X3; 3h07m21s (6th) + 1h23m32s
Ari Vatanen/Fabrizia Pons (FIN/I); Volkswagen Race Touareg 2; 4h56m16s (72nd) + 9h01m12s

Coming up…

Friday, 12 January: stage 7, Zouerat (MR) – Atar (MR): 542 km stage/580 km total. The Dakar Rally’s second longest stage is dominated by sandy sections. The rally armada crosses numerous sand dune ranges on the route from Zouerat to Atar. The drivers can expect to encounter stony tracks and sections of the feared camel grass along the 542 kilometre stage. The rally visits Atar in the evening, where the rest day coincides with the rally’s halfway point on Saturday, and to which many media representatives and VIP guests literally make a flying visit.


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