Volkswagen lead into Dakar final spurt

featuring the event’s last three legs.

On the eleventh day of the rally the four Race Touareg vehicles with Carlos Sainz/Michel Périn, Giniel de Villiers/Dirk von Zitzewitz, Mark Miller/Ralph Pitchford and Dieter Depping/Timo Gottschalk completed a liaison stage from Copiapó via the Chilenian-Argentine border to Fiambalá and back to Argentina. The eleventh special stage was cancelled due to the late ending of the tenth leg the day before as well as an inclement weather forecast, and changed to a so-called liaison stage.Continuing as the front runners in the overall standings are Carlos Sainz/Michel Périn in the Race Touareg marked as competition vehicle number 301. The Spanish-French duo has so far taken the Race Touareg powered by a 280-hp TDI diesel engine to six victories on ten legs. The tally of two-time world rally champion Sainz and three-time "Dakar” winner Périn reflects eight days on which the pairing led the event."Volkswagen can look at an interim result of the Dakar Rally that is positive across the board,” says Volkswagen Motorsport Director Kris Nissen. "Eight out of ten stage victories show that the Race Touareg is the fastest car in the field. Furthermore, the fact that all four vehicles entered in the event are reaching Fiambalá, thus returning to Argentine soil, shows that we’ve got an extremely reliable car. Now, three more legs are on the agenda. The way the ‘Dakar’ has gone so far has taught us not to underestimate them. Particularly the twelfth leg on Thursday to La Rioja and the huge white dunes pose a tough challenge that puts man and material to yet another extremely severe test.”A winner already: South American "Dakar” debut thrills the massesStraight from the start, the Dakar Rally proved to be a crowd puller at its South American debut. More than 500,000 enthusiastic spectators witnessed the starting ceremony in Buenos Aires, over 80.000 of them flocked to the "Dakar Village” for the autograph sessions of the teams, and countless fans have been lining the route through Argentina and Chile on each of the rally days that have taken place so far.The three-some of Volkswagen, X-raid-BMW and Mitsubishi treated them to a nail-biting fight for the lead, the thrill of which was fuelled by the extreme demands made on man and material. "I expected to see a lot of enthusiasm but this surpassed my wildest expectations. The huge turnout of fans – it’s incredible,” says Carlos Sainz, who – not least owing to his three world championship wins in Argentina – is being celebrated as a hero in all quarters.In addition to Carlos Sainz/Michel Périn, Giniel de Villiers/Dirk von Zitzewitz have – on two occasions so far - entered their names on the list of stage winners. Before the final trilogy of the Dakar Rally the South African-German duo is ranking third in the overall classification. Mark Miller and Ralph Pitchford in a further Race Touareg solidified their position as the overall runner-up, 27.31 minutes behind Sainz/Périn. A strong impression as well has been left by the fourth pairing in the cross-country rally prototype from Wolfsburg sporting Red Bull blue: Dieter Depping/Timo Gottschalk delivered convincing performances of top times too, but were extremely unfortunate on a number of occasions and are now ranking ninth overall, as the best German duo.Race Touareg proves itself on roughest terrainQuick gravel stretches, soft sand and huge dune fields, high camel grass and trial-like sections: On the way to Fiambalá, the Volkswagen Race Touareg has so far reliably mastered extremely demanding landscapes. At the Dakar Rally all kinds of different terrain are encountered each day, requiring the technicians to achieve the perfect compromise in terms of vehicle set-up and the drivers to swiftly adapt to the changing terrain."The frequent changes pose a real challenge to us, the drivers, as well as to the co-drivers. We were not accustomed to them from the previous ‘Dakar’ in this form,” says Giniel de Villiers, and Mark Miller adds, "The landscape is breathtaking, absolutely fantastic. During the first crossing of the Andes we briefly stopped on the liaison leg to enjoy this stunning view.”And the remaining stages will continue to feature variety galore. Myriad forms of dunes including the ominous white dunes on Thursday on the way to La Rioja, followed by huge cactus landscapes on Friday and Saturday, and – through the legendary pampas – back to Buenos Aires where the participants will cross the finish ramp on Sunday (the 18th).

Coming up …Thursday, 15 January: Fiambalá (RA) – La Rioja (RA). The twelfth leg features many branch-offs, and thus puts exacting demands on the drivers and co-drivers. Three days before the much-longed-for arrival at the finish the drive across various types of dunes, including the ominous white dunes, is on the agenda. In total, the leg will cover 518 kilometres, 253 of which are timed.

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