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When four factory-fielded Volkswagen Race Touareg vehicles leave the starting ramp in Lisbon on 5 January 2008, it will be the 30th edition of the Dakar Rally. To this day, there is a certain mystique about the “Dakar” that is matched by very few other  motorsport events. No other rally is longer, tougher, more strenuous and less forgiving. 

Year after year, professionals and privateers meet for this unique competition across Africa. Their sights are not set on victory alone: anyone who manages to weather the cross-country race and reaches the finish in Dakar can feel like a winner.    

Volkswagen was the first car manufacturer to contest the event    After the Frenchman Thierry Sabine had crossed the African continent on a motorcycle in  1977 – from the south to the north at the Abidjan-Nice Rally – got lost in the Libyan desert  and survived this critical situation, he decided to launch his own desert rally. On 26 December 1978, 170 contenders started from the Place du Trocadéro in the heart of Paris  to the first 10,000-kilometre cross-country event. Only a year later, Volkswagen took on this unparalleled challenge with a factory line-up. The canvas top of the Iltis offroad vehicle and the leisurewear of the many private contenders in their mostly production-based  vehicles of that time reflect the character of this adventure to this day. Yet the desert legs  through Algeria, Niger, Mali, (then) Upper Volta and Senegal in an era preceding GPS  navigation and mobile phones, were anything but a Sunday drive through the countryside.    

In the battle of concepts, Volkswagen was successful with various ideas    The Iltis stood for a promising concept: A tough, production-based offroad vehicle, complemented by safety and navigation equipment, a larger fuel tank, sand tyres and a  few additional horsepower, was thought to be capable of winning. This was proved by the seasoned racer Freddy Kottulinsky and Audi mechanic Gerhard Loffelmann in the co-driver’s seat, who clinched overall victory in the 110-hp offroader. Their teammates Patrick Zaniroli/Philippe Colesse completed the one-two victory, and the two other Iltis vehicles fielded in the rally finished among the top ten as well. In the years that followed various manufacturers were successful with more purpose-built prototypes.

At the same time, privateers continued to compete in production-based offroad vehicles – or in buggies that were often built upon Volkswagen components.     The Volkswagen factory team itself opted for a buggy design when returning to the Dakar Rally in 2003 – and was crowned with success. The prototype was already being powered by an innovative four-cylinder TDI engine and immediately clinched a double victory in the two-wheel drive class as well as sixth and eighth places overall.

The Volkswagen prototype has been achieving exploits and records     With its open technical concepts and three pillars – automobile, truck and motorcycle classifications – the Dakar Rally has remained true to its origins to this day. At the same time, the sporting competition has become clearly fiercer. After fielding the production based Iltis in 1980 and the buggy in 2003, Volkswagen in 2004 started opting for the Race Touareg, a thoroughbred prototype with four-wheel drive, in order to prove the enormous power and performance capabilities of TDI technology in the most trying conditions. The tally so far shows 20 stage victories and 17 days of leading the rally. What is more, in 2005 the Race Touareg – in third place – was the first diesel-powered car ever to have finished the world’s toughest rally on the podium. Last year, this record was improved by the Race Touareg position of the runner-up. In 2008, the Race Touareg could become the first diesel-powered racing car ever to win the Dakar Rally.    

With special stages amounting to a total 5,000 to 6,000 kilometres, the “Dakar“ contenders pass a distance test that is spread over the space of a whole year in Formula 1 – and they  do so in the rough rally reality of Africa. Since 1979, about 13,600 men and women have participated in this adventure that has taken them through 21 African countries in the past 29 editions. Drivers from 43 nations competed in 2007. Media interest is immense: this year, over 550 journalists from 300 media witnessed the start and finish. Every evening, the organiser, ASO, produces a half-hour TV highlight directly at the bivouac. The footage is made available via satellite and broadcast by 75 channels around the world. In 185 countries, this amounts to an aggregate of 580 hours of TV coverage. In Europe alone, more than 150 million TV viewers are reached – an impressive trend, considering that in the début year of 1979 merely 20 journalists reported about the rally.    

Like no other event, the Dakar Rally captivates hundreds of contenders and millions of spectators – on location and in front of their TV sets – every year. Even after 30 years, the  “Dakar“ legend, in which Volkswagen will participate in January with ambition and enthusiasm yet again, is alive and well.

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