The first week of the “new” Dakar Rally has been awesome. The South American terrain has upheld the spirit and tenacity that has been built up over the past 30 years. From the Bikes to the Trucks, everyone seems to be enjoying the race and its wonders. Our hearts & prayers go out to Pascal Terry, his family and friends. He passed away sometime between Jan 4th-7th from pulmonary edema. This was his first Dakar.
Volkswagen has started this race with a bang, ith 5 out 7 wins and have held the overall lead for 5 days. Volkswagen will start the second week of the Dakar Rally in Argentina and Chile in the top three positions on the leader board. Here, Kris Nissen gives us a great overview of the past week.
After nearly 24 hours of effective driving time, there are just nine seconds between the current leaders Carlos Sainz/Michel Périn (E/F) and their Volkswagen team colleagues Giniel de Villiers/Dirk von Zitzewitz (ZA/D). The third team driving a Race Touareg with a 280 hp TDI diesel engine, Mark Miller/Ralph Pitchford (USA/ZA), is then just over 13 minutes behind. After the only rest day on this legendary cross-country rally, the fourth Volkswagen pair Dieter Depping/Timo Gottschalk (D/D) will start the first of the next seven legs in ninth place. The ‘Dakar’ finishes where it started, in the Argentinian capital Buenos Aires next Saturday (17 January). Volkswagen can look back on a successful first half of the “Dakar”, with five out of a possible seven leg victories under its belt and having had a Race Touareg in the overall lead on five days.
On its South American premiere in Argentina and Chile, the Dakar Rally is cementing its reputation as the toughest rally in the world of motorsport. On their way from Buenos Aires via Santa Rosa, Puerto Madryn, Jacobacci, Neuquén, San Rafael and Mendoza (all in Argentina) to the Chilean coastal resort of Valparaíso, the 500 participants have had to negotiate everything from fast stretches of gravel tracks to scrubland, rocky and trial-like terrain, high-speed sections on sand and huge dune landscapes. Throughout, the navigating co-pilots faced plenty of switches between surfaced, marked roads and off-road stretches – something which required a great deal of skill on the part of the drivers and co-pilots again and again each day. The “Dakar” has also experienced an unprecedented following so far, with many enthusiastic fans lining the route each day.
The only rest day on this year’s rally will give the 80-strong Volkswagen team an opportunity to catch their breath, but there will be little time for resting. The engineers and mechanics will spend the day thoroughly inspecting the four Race Touareg vehicles, that sport a striking blue Red Bull design, while the drivers and co-pilots will be busy talking to all the journalists and guests. And soon after midday, the co-drivers will be able to start to plan the eighth leg, when they are given the next roadbook.
The Volkswagen team will face some tough challenges in the second week of the Dakar Rally. The first few stages head north along Chile’s Pacific coast, from Valparaíso to La Serena and Copiápo. The core of the 30th “Dakar” will then be a circuit around Copiapó and through the extremely dry Atacama Desert followed by the cross-country journey to La Rioja via Fiambalá. After crossing the Andes back into Argentina, the participants themselves will have to service their vehicles in Fiambalá, without any assistance. From La Rioja, the route will take the drivers back to the city of Cordoba and then on to Buenos Aires, where, after approximately 9,500 kilometres and 14 tough stages, the rally finishing line awaits.
Kris Nissen (Volkswagen Motorsport Director)
“At the halfway point of the ‘Dakar’, we can look back on a successful first week of rallying. The whole team has done an excellent job and the Race Touareg has demonstrated that it is a fast and reliable vehicle. There were three or four very demanding days in the first week, but the next seven stages will be even tougher. We are on course for success, but we nevertheless need to remain focused and not make any mistakes if we want to achieve our objective of winning the ‘Dakar’. And to do that, we need to overcome the rally itself first, as it is and will continue to be our toughest adversary. We can already safely say that this is the hardest Dakar Rally ever.”
#301 – Carlos Sainz (E), 1st place overall
“Even before we have tackled the more demanding half of the Dakar Rally coming up next week, it’s safe to say that this ‘Dakar’ is really very tough. At the end of the first extremely challenging week, there is next to nothing between me and my team colleague Giniel de Villiers. But the most important thing is that Volkswagen is in a great position ahead of the remaining seven legs. We now have to make sure that we remain cautious and focused, because, as I have said before, the next legs are bound to be tougher than the legs so far. I predicted there would be a lot of enthusiasm for the ‘Dakar’ in South America before we got here, but to see the huge numbers of excited fans here is absolutely fantastic.”
#301 – Michel Périn (F), co-pilot
“With just nine seconds separating first and second place, it’s almost as if the Dakar Rally won’t be starting until after the rest day. But we have actually been through a very tough week already, which certainly entailed some ups and downs for me and Carlos. And that’s exactly what makes the ‘Dakar’ so special. The organisers are talking about a trilogy of even tougher stages soon after the rest day – but if you ask me, it’s more like four consecutive days that are going to ratchet up the challenge of this rally.”
#305 – Giniel de Villiers (ZA), 2nd place overall
“The first week of the ‘Dakar’ goes to show that it’s not over until you have actually crossed the finishing line. This goes for the first few stages of the rally, and especially for legs four, five, six and seven. The last day before the rest day in particular presented us with a few typical ‘Dakar’ surprises. You can have six successful days in a row, only for everything to go to pot on day seven. We’ve come a long way, but nothing has definitively been won yet – and next week is going to be extremely hard.”
#305 – Dirk von Zitzewitz (D), co-pilot
“The organisers A.S.O. have done a great job and have put together a rally here in South America that is quite rightly called the ‘Dakar’. It really is a tough one, as shown by the high number of withdrawals so far. Not to mention the high level of sporting skill involved in this year’s rally – even the smallest of mistakes can mean it’s all over. With this in mind, we need to remain focused and continue to be careful. But I am optimistic, as I think our strengths lie in the second week of the rally anyway.”
#307 – Dieter Depping (D), 8th place overall
“It’s been a week of highs, but also of a few setbacks for us. Unfortunately, a few small technical hitches caused some big problems and held me up for a few hours. But if you look at the rate of withdrawals in the first few days, it’s clear to see that Volkswagen has come up with a reliable car with the Race Touareg, as all four vehicles that started are still in the running. And taking the seven tough legs so far into account, that’s more than positive.”
#307 – Timo Gottschalk (D), co-pilot
“I’ve been really impressed by how enthusiastic the spectators appear to be about this sporting discipline. There are hundreds of thousands of people lining the streets and cheering when we reach each day’s destination. We don’t even need the roadbook for the last few kilometres up to the bivouac, because the fans show us the way. This level of excitement is catching and it encourages us to do even better on the special stages. Dieter and I have had to deal with a few setbacks, unfortunately. But perhaps we’ll be a lot luckier in the second week of the ‘Dakar’.”
#308 – Mark Miller (USA), 3rd place overall
“I had a simple strategy for the first week of the ‘Dakar’ – every day, I slowly and cautiously worked my way up to the limit and to the right speed. And that’s exactly what I intend to do on the last seven legs too: remain calm, controlled and focused. I’m more than happy with what we have achieved so far. Even though we have already passed a real test of our endurance in the first week, the worst is yet to come. But the first week has shown that our car is tough enough.”
#308 – Ralph Pitchford (ZA), co-pilot
“We’ve come through an extremely challenging rally week. The ‘Dakar’ kicked off with three relatively tame legs, but things started to get tougher and tougher from day four onwards. Thankfully, we now have a rest day before we tackle the even more demanding second week. But arriving at the bivouac each day more than makes up for all the hard work, as we are warmly welcomed by thousands of thrilled spectators every day. There’s no doubt about it – bringing the ‘Dakar’ to South America was an excellent idea.”
Standings after stage 07, Mendoza (RA) – Valparaíso (RCH); 243/816 km stage 7/total
Pos.; Team; Vehicle; Leg 7; Overall time
1. Carlos Sainz/Michel Périn (E/F); Volkswagen Race Touareg 2; 2h35m27s (1st); 23h42m40s
2. Giniel de Villiers/Dirk von Zitzewitz (ZA/D); Volkswagen Race Touareg 2; 2h43m15s (6th) + 9s
3. Mark Miller/Ralph Pitchford (USA/ZA); Volkswagen Race Touareg 2; 2h39m08s (2nd) + 13m53s
4. Nani Roma/Lucas Cruz Senra (E/E); Mitsubishi Racing Lancer; 2h41m04s (4th) + 29m16s
5. Robby Gordon/Andy Grider (USA/USA); Hummer; 2h39m40s (3rd) + 1h08m21s
6. Krzysztof Holowczyc/Jean-Marc Fortin (PL/B); Nissan Navara; 2h49m23s (8th) + 2h39m32s
7. Ivar Tollefsen/Quin Evans (N/GB); Nissan Navara; 2h56m30s (11th) + 2h59m21s
8. Orlando Terranova/Alain Guehennec (RA/F); BMW X3; 3h57m24s (27th) + 4h04m53s
9. Dieter Depping/Timo Gottschalk (D/D); Volkswagen Race Touareg 2; 3h00m28s (12th) + 4h47m43s
10. René Kuipers/Filipe Palmeiro (NL/P); BMW X3; 3h23m18s (22nd) + 4h59m51s