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Volkswagen factory driver Carlos Sainz has taken the lead of the Dakar Rally. The Spaniard and his French co-driver Michel Périn took second place in the Volkswagen Race Touareg 2 on the third stage in Morocco from Nador to Er Rachidia.

The Race Touareg was gifted its third stage victory by the South African Giniel de Villiers and his German co-driver Dirk von Zitzewitz, who led the Sainz/Périn duo by 25 seconds across the line and Stéphane Peterhansel (Mitsubishi) by 3:18 minutes to vault to second place in the overall standings.

Yesterday’s leader Carlos Sousa and his German co-driver Andy Schulz round off the one-two-three lead for Volkswagen in the overall classification.

The Volkswagen duo Mark Miller/Ralph Pitchford improved from seventh to fifth overall. The Finn Ari Vatanen recorded the eleventh best time with his Italian co-driver Fabrizia Pons on the 648 kilometre stage.

The Race Touareg remains unbeaten in this year’s running of the desert classic with three stage victories and as many days at the head of the leader board.
Kris Nissen (Volkswagen Motorsport Director)
"We are very satisfied with the first day in Africa. I’m full of praise for Michel Périn and Carlos Sainz, who, despite being first into the stage, were still second on the day and took the overall lead. Giniel and Dirk clinched the third victory in as many days for us. The team also deserves a prize: It was so efficient that it was the first team to enter the bivouac and set-up up shop.”
#301 – Giniel de Villiers (RSA), 1st place (leg) / 2nd position overall
"A fantastic stage, but it was an incredibly tough day which was rewarded in the end with the stage victory! I had to overtake loads and loads of motorbikes but chose not to take any risks. I ran for a long time in a Mitsubishi’s dust cloud. I only managed to get by when the driver out-braked himself after about 130 kilometres. The route was very twisty and stony.”
#303 – Carlos Sainz (E), 2nd place (leg) / 1st position overall
"An absolutely perfect stage, everything ran well and Michel navigated superbly. I reckon I had to overtake about 160 motorbikes. The dense dust clouds didn’t make things any easier.”
#305 – Mark Miller (USA), 5th place (leg) / 5th position overall
"Since we only started from 14th place, the dust cloud in front was very dense. We barely noticed some bumps. These conditions cost us about five minutes up to the first time check point. As I was overtaking a Nissan the driver probably didn’t see me and he inadvertently touched the left hand side of the car.”

#308 – Ari Vatanen (FIN), 11th place (leg) / 57th position overall
"Because of our starting position we obviously had to fight through masses of dust, but I have no one to blame but myself for yesterday’s result. We were stuck behind a competitor for around 130 kilometres and eventually finished eleventh in the day’s reckonings.”
Snippets from Volkswagen bivouac

- Warning radar traps: The Volkswagen factory drivers and accompanying armada of support vehicles had to pay particular attention to their speeds on the near 1,150 kilometre journey from Portimão in Portugal to the first African bivouac in Er Rachidia in Morocco, because strict speed limits are imposed for safety reasons along the liaison stages and in built up areas during the Dakar Rally. To ensure that the stipulated speeds are maintained the organisers monitor speeds by GPS signal and the local police with radar guns. The organisers are merciless if speeds are exceeded; speeders in the support armada face harsh penalties including confiscation of the service vehicle in question. Registered competitors can even be given time penalties.

- Race Touareg 2 ready for Africa: After the two European stages finish the Volkswagen technicians prepare the four Volkswagen Race Touareg 2 prototypes for the African tracks and trails. The majority of the work centres on modifying the suspension set-up and adjusting the rally cars’ ground clearance to suit conditions.

- Home stage for factory team: The region around the Er Rachidia bivouac is not unknown to the big team competing in the Dakar Rally. Volkswagen and competitors Mitsubishi and BMW regularly undertake test sessions near Erfoud, which is about an hours drive south of Er Rachidia.
- Volkswagen factory drivers well rested: The Volkswagen factory drivers start the Dakar Rally’s first African stage relaxed and well prepared. "For the first time in years I was able to spend Christmas and New Year at home”, said co-driver Ralph Pitchford happily. Fabrizia Pons, Giniel de Villiers, Dirk von Zitzewitz and Carlos Sainz also spent Christmas at home with their families. In contrast, Mark Miller and Ari Vatanen and their wives celebrated New Year together in Portugal, where there met a rally fan who promptly invited the quartet to his wedding. "We just joined in the fun”, reports Vatanen.
Three questions to co-driver Dirk von Zitzewitz
How would you describe the two Portuguese stages that opened the rally?
"The tracks were very physical for us, but also much tougher for the Race Touareg 2 than we had expected. We were well shaken in the deep sand and pot-holes. I actually thought that the start would be a little gentler on us.”
What specific tasks does the co-driver have on the Dakar Rally’s European stages?
"We attempted to help the drivers more as you would in a typical rally. Although arrows marked the turns and junctions, we read the information from the road book. Particularly as the signs were often placed just over a blind crest where the driver couldn’t see them, which is why the drivers needed urgent instructions. On the other hand, from today on we carry out classic navigation and send the driver the right way down the routes in Africa.”
How did you actually prepare for the rally?
"For a co-driver I undertook a very intensive fitness programme, which included time on a cross-trainer in the fitness studio and improved my stamina by jogging. I lost nine kilos to get down to my ‘fighting weight’. On the opening stages I noticed that it was well worth the effort, since the additional physical stress and strain didn’t affect me.”
Standings after stage 3, Nador (MA) – Er Rachidia (MA); 252/648 km stage 3/total
Pos.; Team; Vehicle; Stage 3; Total time
1. Carlos Sainz/Michel Périn (E/F); Volkswagen Race Touareg 2; 2h46m37s (2nd); 5h09m19s
2. Giniel de Villiers/Dirk von Zitzewitz (RSA/D); Volkswagen Race Touareg 2; 2h46m12s (1st) + 1m02s
3. Carlos Sousa/Andreas Schulz (P/D); Volkswagen Race Touareg 2; 2h51m48s (6th) + 4m26s
4. Stéphane Peterhansel/Jean-P. Cottret (F/F); Mitsubishi Pajero Evolution; 2h49m30s (3rd) + 6m03s
5. Mark Miller/Ralph Pitchford (USA/RSA); Volkswagen Race Touareg 2; 2h50m07s (5th) + 9m12s
6. Hiroshi Masuoka/Pascal Maimon (J/F); Mitsubishi Pajero Evolution; 2h51m52s (7th) + 11m17s
7. Nani Roma/Lucas Cruz Senra (E/E); Mitsubishi Pajero Evolution; 2h55m30s (8th) + 11m37s
8. Luc Alphand/Gilles Picard (F/F); Mitsubishi Pajero Evolution; 2h49m54s (4th) + 11m59s
9. Guerlain Chicherit/Matthieu Baumel (F/F); BMW X3; 2h55m32s (9th) + 12m59s
10. Nasser Al-Attiyah/Alain Guehennec (QT/F); BMW X3; 2h58m28s (10th) + 22m39s
57. Ari Vatanen/Fabrizia Pons (FIN/I); Volkswagen Race Touareg 2; 2h59m03s (11th) + 1h48m55s
Coming up…

Tuesday, 9 January: Stage 4, Er Rachidia (MR) – Ouarzazate (MR): 405 km stage /679 km total. At 405 kilometres, the second stage in Morocco is genuine test of stamina. The route is varied – in part very fast, but also extremely tight and stony in other areas.

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