The Volkswagen factory team starts the Dakar Rally on 6 January with four Volkswagen Race Touareg 2 prototypes and 26 officially registered service and support vehicles.
When the 187 participants in the car class, including Volkswagen factory drivers Mark Miller, Giniel de Villiers, Ari Vatanen and Carlos Sainz, set off from Lisbon on the near 8000 kilometre journey to the Senegalese capital Dakar, they must prepare themselves for several changes made to the route and regulations. The 64-page regulations for the sixteen day cross country classic do not, however, only concern the competition vehicles but also regulate the use of the 240 vehicles in the supporting armada.
The event organisation ASO has changed the route at short notice. Due to a warning from the French Foreign Ministry the stages between Nema – Timbuktu and Timbuktu – Nema, originally scheduled to be held on 16 and 17 January, have been cancelled for safety reasons. Instead, a 366 kilometre loop around Nema will be completed on 16 January. A single 280 kilometre liaison stage is on the following day’s agenda. “It’s very important to take safety issues into consideration. From the sporting point of view it’s a shame, since one of the two marathon stages and a day of competition are dropped, and the rally is shorter and therefore the pressure greater as a result”, says Volkswagen co-driver Dirk von Zitzewitz. The overall distance falls to 7,915 kilometres, which equates to 4,309 competitive kilometres, because of the changes.
Lac Rose in Senegal resumes ‘final stage’ status
The “Lac Rose Grand Prix” was originally intended to be held as a show stage on the final day of the Dakar Rally. At short notice, the organisers have shortened the traditional stage along the shores of Lac Rose, scheduled for 21 January, to 16 kilometres and reinstated it as official stage. “A marvellous decision”, explains Giniel de Villiers, 2006 “Dakar” runner-up. “The stage at Lac Rose is the Dakar Rally’s traditional finale – and it’s great that it will also count towards the rally result.”
New navigation assistant
Additional ‘way points’ given on extremely difficult off-road stages should help competitors with navigation in 2007. In addition to the ‘Hidden Way Points’ (WPM), visible way points (WPE – Waypoint Eclipse) are assigned for the first time during the 2007 Dakar Rally. In contrast to the hidden way points, which only appear in the GPS System when a vehicle closes to within three kilometres, the direction of a Waypoint Eclipse is already displayed on the GPS screen when the Volkswagen factory drivers and their competitors close to within 200 metres of the previous way point. “A good decision”, explains Volkswagen factory co-driver and three-time “Dakar” winner Michel Périn. “As a result, competitors will be prevented from driving around in circles in the desert due to ambiguities in the road book.”
Spectator and team safety increased
The safety precautions for spectators and African locals are improved for the 2007 Dakar Rally. A wide-ranging public information campaign in the local media should better prepare the people along the near 8,000 kilometre route for the rally armada and general increase in traffic. The local Police play a more important role in monitoring and policing the traffic regulations. “We welcome the fact that the organisers have undertaken additional measures to further increase safety for the rally spectators, competitors and service armada”, explains Volkswagen Motorsport Director Kris Nissen.
Severe penalties for speeders
The speed limit of 50 and, in part, 30 km/h for rally cars in built-up areas and villages exists for years – and also applies on official stages. Violations are punished with severe fines and even time penalties. Repeat offenders are threatened with exclusion from the competition. The speed limits for support vehicles outside built-up areas are further reduced in 2007: A maximum speed of 120 is valid for Service Cars; Service-Trucks are not allowed to exceed 90 km/h. The Race-Trucks entered in the truck classification are allowed to attain a maximum speed of 150 km/h. Support vehicles violating the limits are also given severe penalties: First time offenders still have to pay 500 Euro for exceeding the speed limits by between 0 and 20 km/h, a second offence is punished by the service vehicle being confiscated till the following day – and the spare parts on board can also not be used. Exclusion from the rally threatens repeat offenders. The fines collected during the Dakar Rally have been donated to charity for years.