Dominant VW misses Dakar victory
- 22nd January 2007, 8:04am
In the 2007 Dakar Rally Volkswagen – having clinched ten of 14 possible stage victories and leading the event for eight days – was the dominant team in the field, but in the overall classification the factory team headed by Volkswagen Motorsport Director Kris Nissen was not rewarded for its performance.
After 8,000 kilometres factory driver Mark Miller (USA) and his co-driver Ralph Pitchford (South Africa) in the Race Touareg 2, as the make’s best pairing, finished in fourth place overall. Prior to this, a defect on a cam follower in the valve train of the diesel engine, which had never occurred before in countless kilometres of testing and competition, had robbed the German automotive manufacturer that had been successfully defending its lead up to this point of all chances for victory.
On all the competition days and in highly varied terrain the Race Touareg powered by a 285-hp 2.5-litre TDI turbodiesel engine had been proving its strengths: From the first to the eighth stage the Volkswagen drivers were leading the 29th running of the desert classic. In the final analysis, this shows a significant improvement over the prior year when the squad finished with five days of leading the rally and five stage victories. On the ninth stage both of the best-placed Race Touareg prototypes were struck by an identical engine defect that caused them to suffer an unrecoverable set-back: Giniel de Villiers (South Africa), runner-up in last year’s ‘Dakar’, with co-driver Dirk von Zitzewitz (Germany), who had been leading with a half-hour advantage up to that point, and Carlos Sainz (Spain) with co-driver Michel Périn (France), who had been running in second place up to the eighth stage.
In the following chase to make up ground the factory team and the drivers gave proof of their unbroken sporting spirit: In a fantastic showing Carlos Sainz – in his second "Dakar” the front runner from the third to the sixth day of the competition and two-time stage winner up to that point – delivered a series of three further stage victories, starting with the twelfth leg. In the end, the Spaniard finished in ninth position overall. Giniel de Villiers, who clinched four stage wins, including two of the three most difficult stages in Mauritania, and was leading the field on the seventh and eighth stages, ultimately improved from 13th to eleventh position.
The Portuguese Carlos Sousa and his German co-driver Andy Schulz proved that in a customer-run Race Touareg 2 excellent showings are possible as well. The duo from the Portugese Lagos Team, for whose fielding the German squad of Phoenix Sport headed by Team Director Ernst Moser was responsible, won the first stage, had the overall lead on the rally’s first two days and defended third place up to the sixth stage. On the seventh stage the duo got stuck in the sand but was able to free itself. In the heavy sandstorm, though, the driver and co-driver unfortunately lost sight of each other and a lot of time in the process of looking for one another. Sousa/Schulz finished the rally at the famous Lac Rose in seventh place overall.
The four-time Dakar Rally winner Ari Vatanen from Finland in the fourth Race Touareg, navigated by his Italian co-driver Fabrizia Pons, on the second stage dropped back to 113th place after a driving mistake while passing through water. On the seventh day a fire of the vehicle put a premature end to the duo’s running.
Kris Nissen (Volkswagen Motorsport Director)
"We’re looking back on a Dakar Rally which has given us a lot of great moments as well as a bitter disappointment. Volkswagen had ten outstanding days when we claimed stage victories, five good days when we finished the stages in places two and three, and one black day when an identical damage to the engine’s valve train caused both of our best-placed vehicles to lose ground with no chance for recovery and our chances for victory vanished. So we’re extending our congratulations to Stephane Peterhansel and Mitsubishi, the overall winners of the 2007 Dakar Rally. The tasks we set for ourselves after the ‘Dakar’ a year ago have been fully accomplished, in some areas we’ve clearly achieved improvements: The drivers and co-drivers, the entire team, logistics and the Race Touareg were better than in 2006. With the refined version of the Race Touareg we set the pace on all the stages and dominated the rally with a commanding lead from the very first day until suffering this dual set-back on the ninth leg. Ten of 14 possible stage victories speak for themselves. This improved performance becomes particularly evident when you look at the three most demanding legs in the sand of Mauritania, two of which we won and the third of which we were leading up to being struck by the defect. In the final analysis, this has again been an outstanding Dakar Rally, a very well organised event, with changed rules for navigation that proved to work well yet again, with precise roadbooks, a great atmosphere and thrilling sport.”
#303 – Carlos Sainz (E), 2nd place (leg) / 9th place overall
"It was a great rally for myself and the entire team. I’m really satisfied with the development of the Race Touareg 2 between 2005 and 2007. Volkswagen has claimed ten of 14 stage victories, and in highly different conditions at that – when it comes to the strengths of this vehicle, this says it all. I feel more disappointed about the fact that in the end we had no more chance for victory for the team than for myself.”
#303 – Michel Périn (F), Carlos Sainz’s co-driver
"Even though we weren’t able to win I walk away with a good feeling because the step we took from last year to this ‘Dakar’ has been huge. Carlos and I were often the course-opening car and in spite of this I didn’t commit a single navigation error – and I’m glad about this, needless to say. Carlos has long ceased to be a ‘Dakar’ rookie, he understands the tasks at hand here perfectly. He listens to my commands very carefully even when I ask him to brake, which is unusual for a rally driver. What’s more, Carlos drives at an impressive, high speed.”
#305 – Mark Miller (USA), 21st place (leg) / 4th place overall
"The great strides made with the evolution of the Race Touareg are really remarkable. Volkswagen set the pace at all times. My new co-driver Ralph Pitchford and I had a good time, we worked together very well in the cockpit. A podium place would have been possible for us but we lost some time helping our team colleagues. That was perfect teamwork and the natural thing to do. I’m already looking forward to the 2008 ‘Dakar’, we feel well prepared.”
#305 – Ralph Pitchford (RSA), Mark Miller’s co-driver
"Driving with Mark was fantastic. We’re happy with the performance of the entire team. The engineers, car chiefs and mechanics all did a superb job. Unfortunately, Volkswagen didn’t win. As far as the rally is concerned, it was another super ‘Dakar’, which was demanding in every respect.”
#301 – Giniel de Villiers (RSA), 1st place (leg) / 11th place overall
"The first half of the rally was really great. We proved that we, the entire team and the Race Touareg are competitive in every way. Particularly on the long stages in the sand we made great strides. Last week then started with a big disappointment when we lost our lead. That was a bitter moment, although such things can always happen in racing. After that, the situation was tough for us because a few times we had to start very late and then had to overtake much slower vehicles on the route. But even on the days when things weren’t going that well for us we learned a lot for the future.”
#301 – Dirk von Zitzewitz (D), Giniel de Villiers’ co-driver
"For Giniel and myself, the 2007 ‘Dakar’ went superbly up to the second part of the marathon leg, exactly the way we’d wanted it to be. We were even leading by half an hour when the defect hit us. Still, it was a good race because we didn’t only prove to ourselves but, even more importantly, to all the others that we’re capable of winning.”
#313 – Carlos Sousa (P) – Lagos Team, 4th place (leg) / 7th place overall
"I’m very happy with our performance in my eleventh Dakar Rally. The Race Touareg is an outstanding car which makes me feel very comfortable and which allowed me to keep the pace of the front runners at all times. Our Lagos Team and the fielding squad from Phoenix Sport did a perfect job, the support from Volkswagen was great – I can only thank everyone for this. Of course the most rewarding day of the rally was the day I won the first stage in my native Portugal in front of this gigantic turnout of spectators and then took the lead for two days.”
#313 – Andy Schulz (D) – Lagos Team, Carlos Sousa’s co-driver
"During the entire rally we were absolutely competitive. It was really good fun. Working with Carlos was great. That we were looking for each other in the sandstorm in vain for such a long time after getting stuck but freeing ourselves again quickly was probably a funny thing, but for us, it was simply a misfortune. After all, we were third on the leader board at the time.”
Final standings after leg 15, Dakar (SN) – Dakar (SN); 16/93 km stage 14/total
Pos.; Team; Vehicle; Leg 15; Total time
1. Stéphane Peterhansel/Jean-P. Cottret (F/F); Mitsubishi Pajero Evolution; 10m52s (49th); 45h53m37s
2. Luc Alphand/Gilles Picard (F/F); Mitsubishi Pajero Evolution; 11m02s (52nd) + 7m26s
3. Jean-Louis Schlesser/Arnaud Debron (F/F); Schlesser-Buggy Ford; 8m25s (5th) + 1h33m57s
4. Mark Miller/Ralph Pitchford (USA/RSA); Volkswagen Race Touareg 2; 9m40s (21st) + 2h10m16s
5. Hiroshi Masuoka/Pascal Maimon (J/F); Mitsubishi Pajero Evolution; 9m52s (23rd) + 2h44m31s
6. Nasser Al-Attiyah/Alain Guehennec (QT/F); BMW X3; 9m35s (18th) + 3h31m59s
7. Carlos Sousa/Andreas Schulz (P/D); Volkswagen Race Touareg 2; 8m24s (4th) + 5h10m54s
8. Robby Gordon/Andy Grider (USA/USA); Hummer H3; 8m08s (3rd) + 7h04m07s
9. Carlos Sainz/Michel Périn (E/F); Volkswagen Race Touareg 2; 7m44s (2nd) + 7h25m45s
10. Stéphane Henrard/Brigitte Becue (B/B); Buggy Volkswagen; 9m54s (24th) + 8h28m29s
11. Giniel de Villiers/Dirk von Zitzewitz (RSA/D); Volkswagen Race Touareg 2; 7m42s (1st) + 8h44m34s
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