Saturday, January 06, 2007

Dakar Rally Update: Volkswagen takes top five positions in first stage

The results of the Dakar Rally's first stage are in and Volkswagen takes the top five positions with Portugal's Carlos Sousa and his German co-driver Andreas Schulz take the first position.

Details after the jump.

Source: Volkswagen Motorsport
WOLFSBURG, Germany - Volkswagen occupies the first five positions on the leader board after the Dakar Rally’s opening stage. The opening day’s stage in Portugal was won by local matador Carlos Sousa with his German co-driver Andreas Schulz in a Volkswagen Race Touareg 2 entered by Lagos Team.

Giniel de Villiers/Dirk von Zitzewitz finished second for Volkswagen in a Race Touareg 2 on the 464 kilometre long stage from Lisbon to Portimao. The hoards of spectators lining the sandy stage witnessed an exciting tussle for third place: Carlos Sainz with co-driver Michel Périn and Ari Vatanen/Fabrizia Pons recorded identical times at the stage finish. Fifth place went to Mark Miller/Ralph Pitchford in another Volkswagen Race Touareg 2. Only 3:56 minutes separate the first five drivers, the closest rival – Guerlain Chicherit in a BMW X3 – trails by another minute.

The successful opening day continues a trend for Volkswagen: Now, for the third year in succession a Race Touareg driver tops the leader board to start the world’s toughest desert rally on the way to Dakar. Carlos Sainz led the field last year at the beginning, and a year before Robby Gordon did just that. The Volkswagen Touareg has now recorded its 42nd stage victory and 37th day leading the field since its rally career started in 2004.

Kris Nissen (Volkswagen Motorsport Director)
"I’m delighted with the excellent team result – our package looks good. Just like in 2005 and 2006, we are at the front to begin, but nobody should forget that the rally is almost 8,000 kilometres long. It’s also important that everybody continues to work perfectly each and every day. It wasn’t easy today, because the route information for the opening stage wasn’t correct. The fuel consumption climbed dramatically because the tracks were much softer than expected. It was touch-and-go up to the first service point, which is why the fuel reserve in the tanks on the cars was used up.”

#301 – Giniel de Villiers (RSA), 2nd place (leg) / 2nd position overall
"This stage was surprisingly difficult. The track was very sandy and much ruttier than you’d expect in Europe. We overtook Luc Alphand relatively early. The track was lined by trees and there were loads of spectators along the route, so we didn’t take any risks and are satisfied with second place.”

#303 – Carlos Sainz (E), 3rd place (leg) / 3rd position overall
"For me, the subsoil felt much softer today than the sandy tracks did last time in Dubai! The track was narrow which is why it was a problem to overtake the motorcyclists. You had to sit tight and wait for a good opportunity to pass. My time is okay. I expect an entirely different, much harder surface on the second stage in the mountains.”

#305 – Mark Miller (USA), 5th place (leg) / 5th position overall
"That was a fantastic stage. The spectators lined the track in a ‘guard of honour’ for 40 kilometres. I didn’t take any risks on this incredible day and drove very precisely. I expect tracks with very little grip on the second stage through the mountains. I also won’t take any risks there. I’ll be perfectly satisfied to start the first stage in Africa in the top ten.”

#308 – Ari Vatanen (FIN), 4th place (leg) / 4th position overall
"I’m very satisfied to have recorded exactly the same time as Carlos Sainz. It was an excellent opening for my co-driver Fabrizia and I. As expected the Race Touareg ran like clockwork. However, because the track was much softer than expected we actually used the fuel reserve we’d been carrying.”


Snippets from Volkswagen bivouac

- Media bustle around Volkswagen factory drivers:
The Volkswagen drivers were in the spotlight before the start of the Dakar Rally. Ari Vatanen, Carlos Sainz, Mark Miller and Giniel de Villiers and their co-drivers used the days leading to the start of the cross country classic to give interviews, and posed for photographs at technical scrutineering before signing autographs for employees from the Volkswagen factory "Autoeuropa” and met guests of the Volkswagen importers for informal chats. After the start in Lisbon the four Volkswagen duos concentrate solely on rally events.

- Lisbon retains start location status: The Dakar Rally started from Lisbon for the second time. Like the debut year, in 2007 the technical and administrative scrutineering on Thursday was also extremely well attended. The ‘Dakar’ will again start in Lisbon in 2008. Portugal’s Sport Minister Pedro Silva Pereira emphasised the interest of his country to extend the cooperation beyond 2008.

- Farewell colleagues: The Volkswagen factory team must bid farewell after the stages held on the Iberian Peninsula. The ten ‘European Group’ employees, who supported the team before the start, return to Germany in the evening. The remaining group also splits-up: While the factory drivers and their race engineers stay overnight in Portimão on the Algarve, the majority of the 78-head team set-off for Algeciras, from where the ferry for the support Armada sets sail to Africa.


Three questions to Volkswagen factory driver Carlos Sainz

This is your second Dakar Rally start, how do you feel?

"I drove a lot of tests last season and competed in three Cross Country Rally World Cup events. Especially since starting the UAE Desert Challenge, where we were able to win three stages, I feel that I’ve collected a great deal of experience on sand and in the desert. However, the ‘Dakar’ is tough and when compared to drivers like Ari Vatanen I’m a relative newcomer in this sport.”

You were able to win the opening stages in Portugal last year. Is the pressure greater now as a result?
"It’s a completely different ball game this year. The stages are completely different this year, which is why we couldn’t draw on much of last year’s information. In general, however, both of the opening stages suit me because they are typical rally stages.”

Do you go to the limit on these stages?
"No, since you stand to lose much more than you can win on these short stages. It’s important for me to get through these relatively short Portuguese stages without problems. At the end of the day, the only thing that counts is the result after crossing the finish line in Dakar after two weeks of rallying. Also, it’s not possible to drive on the limit when you have to follow a road book without notes.”

Standings after stage 1, Lisbon (P) – Portimão (P); 117/464 km stage 1/total

Pos., Team, Vehicle, Stage 1, Total time
1. Carlos Sousa/Andreas Schulz (P/D); Volkswagen Race Touareg 2; 1h20m38s (1st) 1h20m38s
2. Giniel de Villiers/Dirk von Zitzewitz (RSA/D); Volkswagen Race Touareg 2; 1h23m09s (2nd) + 2m31s
3. Carlos Sainz/Michel Périn (E/F); Volkswagen Race Touareg 2; 1h23m16s (3rd) + 2m38s
4. Ari Vatanen/Fabrizia Pons (FIN/I); Volkswagen Race Touareg 2; 1h23m16s (4th) + 2m38s
5. Mark Miller/Ralph Pitchford (USA/RSA); Volkswagen Race Touareg 2; 1h24m34s (5th) + 3m56s

6. Guerlain Chicherit/Matthieu Baumel (F/F); BMW X3; 1h25m30s (6th) + 4m52s
7. Nani Roma/Lucas Cruz Senra (E/E); Mitsubishi Pajero Evolution; 1h25m31s (7th) + 4m53s
8. Stéphane Peterhansel/Jean-P. Cottret (F/F); Mitsubishi Pajero Evolution; 1h25m55s (8th) + 5m17s
9. Nasser Al-Attiyah/Alain Guehennec (QT/F); BMW X3; 1h26m38s (9th) + 6m00s
10. Hiroshi Masuoka/Pascal Maimon (J/F); Mitsubishi Pajero Evolution; 1h27m54s (10th) + 7m16s

Coming up…

Sunday, 7 January: Stage 2, Portimão (P) – Malaga (E): 67 km stage/545 km total. The route follows a hard track through the mountains. The drivers must look after their cars on this typical World Rally Championship type stage, because the time allowed for servicing is short: A long liaison stage to Malaga is on the agenda in the afternoon, from where the competition vehicles will catch the ferry to Nador in Morocco.

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