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With Spaniard Carlos Sainz and Portuguese Carlos Sousa at the wheel, Volkswagen will be fielding two Race Touareg 2 vehicles in the Rally Transibérico. Michel Périn (France) and Andreas Schulz (Germany) will be the co-drivers in the first round of the 2007 FIA Cross-Country World Cup. The off-road rally, in which Volkswagen’s pairing of Giniel de Villiers/Dirk von Zitzewitz was victorious in 2006, will be run through Portugal and Spain from 31 May to 3 June.

“This is our first competition since the Dakar Rally in January,” said Volkswagen Motorsport Director Kris Nissen. “Last year our gap to Mitsubishi in the Rally Transibérico was very small, and in the end, Giniel de Villiers and Dirk von Zitzewitz won with a narrow 25-second lead after showing a strong driving performance.

"We are eager to see whether our competitors have also made further strides. The two Volkswagen Race Touareg 2 cars basically feature the same level of technology as in the 2007 Dakar Rally, but we have refined certain details of the suspension, dampers and springs, which should have a positive effect on the hard and very twisty tracks in Portugal. These modifications were tested with positive results in Southern France at the end of April.”

As many as five times – in 1999, 2001, 2002, 2003 and 2004 – Volkswagen driver Carlos Sousa won the Baja Portugal, the predecessor of the Rally Transibérico. “But since 2004, I have not competed in my home race,” commented Sousa, who will be driving a Volkswagen Race Touareg 2 sporting the colours of Team Lagos. “In the meantime, not only the name of the rally has changed but the route has as well. That’s why my home advantage should not be overestimated.” Nevertheless – the goal of the cross-country professional, who lives in Lisbon, is clear: “I want to win. However, my strongest rivals not only include the Mitsubishi drivers but, above all, my team-mate Carlos Sainz, who showed on the first leg of the Dakar Rally that he is extremely strong on these types of tracks.”

Carlos Sousa attaches particular importance to the opening stage in Mafra. “From the first metre, top performance and extreme concentration are essential because in the prologue on Thursday, the starting positions for the first leg will be determined. It is important to finish among the top ten here as overtaking on the very narrow paths in the woods will be very difficult. In addition, a later starting position will mean limited visibility on account of thick clouds of dust,” explained Sousa.

For Sainz, the Rally Transibérico is still new territory, although the 1990 and 1992 World Rally Champion is familiar with the classic Portuguese stages of the World Rally Championship and the first legs of the Dakar Rally on the Iberian peninsula as well as the offroad tracks of the Rally Portalegre in Portugal, where he made his crosscountry rally début with Volkswagen in 2005.

“However, the route of the Transibérico is new for me,” said the Spaniard. “But, last year, all cross-country rallies were new to me. I will tackle the Rally Transibérico with the same attitude, in other words highly motivated and eager to learn. In addition, the tight and twisty – and thus more classic tracks of this event – should suit me well.”

The Rally Transibérico, starting in Mafra, north west of the Portuguese capital of Lisbon on 31 May, will kick off with a super special in Mafra, followed by three further special stages via Badajoz and Évora, then back to Estoril, where the podium ceremony will be held at on 3 June. Due to the elections in Spain, the special stages will strictly take place in Portugal, although a 200-kilometre liaison leg will lead through Spain, and the finish of the special stage on day two of the rally in Badajoz will be in Spain as well.

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