We had a great time following the stage today as Mark Miller came so close to winning it. A puncture held them from the top spot.
Volkswagen celebrated its seventh stage victory on the ninth leg of the 2009 Dakar Rally, maintaining its overall lead with stage winners Carlos Sainz/Michel Périn (E/F), ahead of two further Race Touareg vehicles.
The 537-kilometre leg from La Serena to Copiapó in Chile demanded concentrated performance of the navigators, particularly during the starting phase, and put a severe physical strain on the crews due to long off-road stretches with hard impacts and stony sections. At first, Mark Miller/Ralph Pitchford (USA/ZA) looked like the stage winners for a long time. However, the American/South African duo lost about five minutes just before the finish because of a tyre change, but improved by one position in the overall classification. Miller/Pitchford took second place from their team colleagues Giniel de Villiers/Dirk von Zitzewitz (ZA/D), who lost 12.01 minutes on the ninth competition day due to a navigation error.
Carlos Sainz, who had been leading the cross-country classic for three days from the second leg onwards, then being replaced at the top for two days, has been running in front in the overall classification again since last Friday. After five stage victories, his lead over Miller now amounts to almost 20 minutes. De Villiers/von Zitzewitz follow with a three-minute gap in third place. Dieter Depping/Timo Gottschalk (D/D) in the fourth 280-hp Race Touareg lost 1:48 hours and dropped from eighth to tenth place overall.
Kris Nissen (Volkswagen Motorsport Director)
“Today I’ve got to pay a huge compliment to our co-drivers Michel Périn and Ralph Pitchford. This leg was extremely demanding in terms of navigation. Our team did a great job across the board. Carlos Sainz further extended his advantage and we defended our one-two-three lead in the overall classification. The bottom line is that we’re very satisfied – if we continue working at the same level of consistency and concentration as before, our first ‘Dakar’ victory will be possible.”
#301 – Carlos Sainz (E), 1st place leg / 1st place overall
“This was a very tough and demanding leg which, in the beginning, particularly tested the navigation skills of my co-driver Michel Périn – he really did a fantastic job. On the driving side, lots of off-road passages, hard shocks and stones galore made life difficult for us. But we handled these challenges well. The next few days will remain rough – that’s why our main goal is to get through without any problems. Then we’ll see what results this will produce.”
#305 – Giniel de Villiers (ZA), 5th place leg / 3rd place overall
“We neither had any punctures nor any other problems – as far as the technology goes, we got through perfectly. Unfortunately, though, we completely got lost on two occasions. The first time, the wrong route we’d taken even matched the roadbook descriptions quite well; that’s why we noticed that we were lost only after five kilometres. That definitely cost us 15 minutes. But there are still some tough days ahead on which a lot can happen.”
#307 – Dieter Depping (D), 22nd place leg / 10th place overall
“At the beginning, we turned into a wrong canyon. After finding our way out again, we wanted to catch up and put the pedal to the metal. 120 kilometres before the finish we slipped off the track, hit a rock, bent two rear wishbones and had to replace both of them. That’s why we dropped to tenth place.”
#308 – Mark Miller (USA), 2nd place leg / 2nd place overall
“Particularly the beginning of this extremely difficult leg went very well for my co-driver Ralph Pitchford and me. Ralph did a perfect job of navigating, so we caught up with my team-mate Carlos Sainz after only 60 kilometres. We stayed close to his dust and expected to be following him all the way to the finish. But Carlos and Michel made a small navigation mistake – so we passed them. Unfortunately, a slow puncture and the resulting tyre change later prevented my first stage victory at the ‘Dakar’. But that’s not so important. The main thing is that in the end a ‘blue vehicle’ will be the overall front runner.”