At the Rallye dos Sertoes in Brazil a captivating team-internal duel thrilled the fans: Carlos Sainz and Nasser Al-Attiyah in the Race Touareg jointly won all ten stages of the toughest and longest cross-country rally after the “Dakar”. At the finish, after 2,605 kilometres of special stages, the factory drivers were separated by just 1m 09s. In a joint interview Carlos Sainz from Spain and Nasser Al-Attiyah from Qatar talk about the experiences they gained, about teamwork, mutual respect and future goals.
Carlos Sainz, did you expect your new team colleague Nasser Al-Attiyah to be able to put so much pressure on you at the first rally?
Carlos Sainz: “Actually, I had no doubt he would. After all, Nasser was not signed by Volkswagen for the ‘Dakar’ programme by chance. He is one of the world’s quickest rally drivers and now competes in the world’s best team – and he proved this in the Race Touareg from the very first minute.”
How much do you respect each other?
Nasser Al-Attiyah: “I respect a lot of good things a rally driver needs in Carlos. He has a wealth of experience in sprint and cross-country rally racing. It’s a great pleasure for me to compete in the same team and to be able to match my skills against his. I can still learn a great deal from him. He is truly a personality – the many text messages I received ever since it became known that we will jointly run for Volkswagen have shown this as well. Everyone is happy for me. And for me, it’s a great opportunity too.”
Carlos Sainz: “Like Nasser, I try to learn something from every good driver. The day you stop developing is the day you should end your career. At Volkswagen, we’re a stronger team also thanks to Nasser.”
Your duel at the “Sertoes” thrilled the fans, either of you could have won and both of you continually demonstrated the will to win. So, what are the typical traits of a red-blooded racer?
Carlos Sainz: “Nasser, for example, has the personal traits of a red-blooded racer and I think we’re very similar in this respect: Always determined to win, always thinking ahead and aiming to fully exploit the potential, with calculated risks. Our style of driving is identical to our general approach to the sport.”
At this rally you worked together with new co-drivers in competitive conditions for the first time. How would you rate this cockpit teamwork?
Nasser Al-Attiyah: ”When you’ve got a new co-driver at your side you need to engage in a new process of coordination, gather joint experience and improve your communication in detailed aspects day by day. This also requires a bit of patience. Not only co-drivers can make mistakes and fail to find the way; the driver, too, can choose the wrong speed. For me, it’s always very important to have good rapport on board. With Timo Gottschalk I immediately found a good way of communicating. This makes me optimistic for the Silk Way Rally in September and for the Dakar Rally in January.”
Carlos Sainz: “I’ve got to agree with Nasser in this respect from my point of view and can say the same about my teamwork with Lucas Cruz Senra. We had an outstanding opportunity here to try ourselves out as a team in varying conditions and to coordinate our actions. Every day at the rally was different and took us across different types of terrain. It takes time to achieve perfect coordination between the driver and co-driver. Here at the ‘Sertoes’ we also made great strides in this respect. Particularly at this rally the co-drivers’ job was difficult due to a different type of roadbook. Lucas handled it very well.”
The time difference between the two of you after the rally was minute: just 1m 09s. Doesn’t such a narrow defeat grate on you, Mr Al-Attiyah?
Nasser Al-Attiyah: “For me, the result is not as crucial as it is for the media. I contested this event in order to complete as many kilometres in the car as possible and to coordinate my actions with Timo. Whether I’d finish in first or second place was not important for me because I’ve got another rally to prepare for the ‘Dakar’ on my schedule. Then, the situation will probably look completely different. But honestly: The only thing that really counts is that Volkswagen clinched the one-two victory – which had been expected to some extent – in a dominant way. It’s about the team. I don’t feel like a loser in any respect. When Carlos wins, I’m a winner as well. After all, we’re both driving for the same team.”
Carlos Sainz: “Like at any cross-country rally, the roadbook posed a challenge to the drivers and co-drivers. The ‘Sertoes’ is the world’s toughest rally after the ‘Dakar’ – that’s why minor setbacks are completely normal, they’re part of the sport – particularly in our speciality. But, all in all, these setbacks were balanced out, as the results show as well. I think Nasser and I drove at the same level and our co-drivers, too, had the same high level. On one day Nasser lost some time, on another day I did. But circumstances as well as fortune were balanced for both pairings.”
What was the special aspect of the Rallye dos Sertoes?
Carlos Sainz: “To be quick here you’ve got to have a very good handle on technical aspects. Normally, to be quick in off-road events, a good car, which we’ve definitely got with the Race Touareg, and a bit of experience help. But to be quick at the ‘Sertoes’ you need one thing in particular: control of the vehicle in any situation.”
Nasser Al-Attiyah: “That’s exactly right. These narrow gravel trails tended to resemble a classic sprint rally and the trial sections and water passages made additional demands on the drivers’ skills. It was really a good test for the ‘Dakar.’”
What were your learning goals at your first rally in the Volkswagen factory team?
Nasser Al-Attiyah: “Finishing the rally and gathering loads of experience were definitely goals. I joined Volkswagen after driving for a different team. Volkswagen has a completely different, much more professional technological level. Of course another one of my goals was to prove myself here. I enjoyed every minute and every turn in the car.”
A question about your future goals will probably result in the same answer …
Carlos Sainz: “I think so, too. Everyone wants to win the ‘Dakar’. However, this not only applies to Nasser and me but also to our team colleagues Giniel de Villiers and Mark Miller, to all the drivers at X-raid-BMW and to Robby Gordon in the Hummer. Every driver always wants just one thing: to win.”
But there can be only one winner – to what extent are you working together towards achieving the big goal of repeating the “Dakar” exploit from January?
Carlos Sainz: “Let’s put it this way: When you’re driving in the best team you can also be sure to have the strongest team colleagues of all. This is the case at Volkswagen. And all of us working together move the whole package forwards with each kilometre of additional experience. The entire team keeps developing this way.”
Let’s talk about the team that was confronted with a major challenge here in Brazil as well. What can a driver do to make the job of the technical crew easier?
Nasser Al-Attiyah: “I always try to maintain a very close relationship with my mechanics. This includes many individual conversations to explain the situations that result in additional work during the service. This rally in particular resulted in a lot of body damage because the trails were very narrow. But the guys can always be sure that we’re doing our best to bring the car home to the finish without any scratches. But sometimes there are situations which are simply inevitable. This is what I try to explain.”
What kind of a tip would you give to each other?
Nasser Al-Attiyah: “More than likely, I can’t give Carlos any good tips. Instead, I want to learn from him. But maybe he can copy some of my ways during the next test in the dunes. That’s where I’ve got a bit more experience …”
Carlos Sainz: “That’s exactly what it’s all about. Only through mutual exchange the whole team and each driver pairing continually improves. Any solution I find is shared with the whole team and the same is true for all the other drivers at Volkswagen. That’s the only way we can achieve our goals.”
- Volkswagen Motorsport