The team under Volkswagen Motorsport Director Kris Nissen starts the near 8,000 kilometre long Dakar Rally with four Volkswagen Race Touareg 2 prototypes driven by Mark Miller/Ralph Pitchford (USA/South Africa), Carlos Sainz/Michel Périn (Spain/France), Ari Vatanen/Fabrizia Pons (Finland/Italy) and Giniel de Villiers/Dirk von Zitzewitz (South Africa/Germany). In the interview, Kris Nissen explains which targets Volkswagen has, and which development steps were made to the Race Touareg 2, and the fascination of the world’s longest and toughest rally that starts on 6 January in Lisbon (Portugal) and finishes in Dakar (Senegal) on 21 January.
Kris Nissen, what targets have you set your team for the 2007 Dakar Rally?
“We want to be the first to win this long and tough rally with a Diesel powered vehicle. We came close to winning last year with the Volkswagen Race Touareg 2. We have worked extremely hard since then and have improved even further.”
Four rallies in the FIA Cross Country Rally World Cup, in which two wins and a second place were scored. How would you sum up these preparations?
“We tested extensively in 2006, and took in an additional four rallies as competitive preparation for the forthcoming Dakar Rally. We are well equipped for the start because we completed many thousands of kilometres in the toughest of conditions.”
Which strategy did you pursue when selecting the Volkswagen factory drivers?
“We wanted a mix of drivers and co-drivers who possess not only speed and will to win, but also maturity and experience. We achieved these targets with our squad. A driver’s age is not as crucial in cross country rallying as it is on other motorsport disciplines. There are drivers who are very fast at 45 or 55 years of age. Actually, what is required during the Dakar Rally is a mixture of driving quickly, car control and reading the lie of the land.”
In which areas was the Volkswagen Race Touareg 2 further developed?
“The new four-valve Diesel engine produces a little more power and torque over a wider range and is, in general, more drivable which eases driving over difficult terrain. We also optimised the gearbox. We also made a step forwards with the suspension development together with our new partner ZF Sachs.”
What is the fascination of the “Dakar” for?
“During such a long race every cog in the works must mesh perfectly, otherwise you have no chance of winning. And even if a team has prepared meticulously there is absolutely no guarantee of success. In other motorsport disciplines it is possible to improve the car from weekend to weekend and then be successful. The moment the three-week Dakar Rally has begun there is no chance of changing anything on the car or with the organisation or logistics. That’s why every team member must do a perfect job each and every day. The Dakar Rally is an enormous challenge.”
How do you rate your team?
“I believe that we are even stronger than last year. In 2006 we had handling difficulties in soft sand, which we identified and solved after implementing the necessary modifications. I think that we are at the same level as our main rival Mitsubishi, which has paved the way in cross country rallying over the last few years. However, both the X-Raid BMW and the Buggy from Jean-Louis Schlesser should not be underestimated. It’ll be a tough battle and extremely exciting for every team involved.”
Has the strategy for the 2007 “Dakar” changed?
“In previous years it was possible to win by adapting the wait-and-see policy, a tactically cautious approach. However, in 2007 this is definitely not possible and every team, including those of our rivals, must attack at 100 percent from the beginning to win. I expect an even quicker pace this year, which will make great demands of car, driver and co-driver.”
What does Volkswagen’s involvement in the Dakar Rally mean for the brand?
“Motorsport is a very effective marketing instrument and the Dakar Rally in particular creates enormous interest around the world. There are daily reports about the ‘Dakar’ on television in approximately 180 countries. This is an excellent platform from which to demonstrate Volkswagen’s technical expertise.”
How great is the know-how transfer from the “Dakar” rally to production car, for example in the development of TDI-Technology?
“We worked very closely with the technicians and engineers from the Volkswagen Technical Development department during the Race Touareg development. The exchange of information is made in both directions. Both departments have shown enormous powers of innovation in the engine field.”