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Heat, high dunes and the desert are awaiting the Volkswagen factory team in its dress rehearsal before the start of the Dakar Rally. In the UAE Desert Challenge from 5th to 10th November in the United Arab Emirates, Volkswagen factory drivers Ari Vatanen/Fabrizia Pons (Finland/Italy) and Carlos Sainz/Michel Périn (Spain/France) will be competing with two Volkswagen Race Touareg 2 cars. In the vast sandy desert Volkswagen will also be meeting the Mitsubishi factory team contesting the event with the three “Dakar“ winners, Luc Alphand, Stéphane Peterhansel and Hiroshi Masuoka.

“For us, this rally – not least due to competing with our strongest rivals – is a final test of Where we stand prior to the start of the Dakar Rally in Lisbon on 6 January,“ said Volkswagen Motorsport Director Kris Nissen. “At the same time the event is a good warmup for the drivers and the entire Volkswagen squad because to some extent it offers the same conditions awaiting us in the sand dunes of Mauritania.“

Highly motivated, Volkswagen’s newcomer Ari Vatanen is starting his first rally in the Volkswagen Race Touareg 2. “My co-driver Fabrizia Pons and I are hoping to be able to celebrate our début in the Volkswagen team with a good result. But for us, it’s also about the car, team, co-driver, and of course myself as the driver, being well prepared for the ‘Dakar’,” said Vatanen. The Finn won the UAE Desert Challenge in 1997. “This is a rally I really love. Dubai is a fascinating business location. We’re definitely in for a programme of stark contrasts, running in the complete solitude of the desert after starting in front of the glittering backdrop of modern high-rise buildings.“

Fabrizia Pons is looking forward to her first desert round with Ari Vatanen in eleven years. “I’m convinced that we’ll be able to work together well straight away,” said the professional co-driver who competed in the 2004 UAE Desert Challenge alongside Jutta Kleinschmidt. “Back then the rally was held a few weeks earlier and it was very hot. I’m hoping for the temperatures to be a bit more bearable in November. This rally is well organised and always attracts a large crowd of enthusiastic fans for the start.“

The UAE Desert Challenge comprises five legs across the desert between Dubai and Abu Dhabi. On four evenings, the contenders head for a bivouac in the desert near Moreeb, about 350 kilometres from Dubai and Abu Dhabi. “The UAE Desert Challenge is a typical desert rally with high sand dunes galore,” said Michel Périn, who navigates for Volkswagen works driver Carlos Sainz. “To facilitate the navigation, unlike with the other World Cup rounds and the ‘Dakar’, the organisers specify way points which can be tracked using a GPS navigation system. This means that, for the co-drivers, this event isn’t a real practice run for the Dakar Rally whereas the drivers can gather important findings for the competition in January.“

For Carlos Sainz and co-driver Michel Périn, the UAE Desert Challenge marks their third joint competition. “This event is absolutely new territory for me,“ said Carlos Sainz. “It gives me the opportunity to gain more kilometres on sand, the type of ground I don’t feel very familiar with yet. What’s more, I can drive the latest specification of the Volkswagen Race Touareg 2 in a competition after completing so many promising tests with this car. Personally, I haven’t set any specific goals for this last rally before the ‘Dakar’, my main objective is to gain more experience.“

The UAE Desert Challenge, the FIA Cross-Country Rally World Cup’s final round of the season, covers a total of 2443 kilometres. 1520 of these are timed kilometres on five special stages. The event will start with a Superspecial near Dubai on the afternoon of 5 November. On the following day the Volkswagen factory drivers and their rivals will drive from the starting location of Abu Dhabi to the desert bivouac in Moreeb. From there, the teams will complete three loops around Moreeb on the following days before starting to a 287-kilometre final stage from Moreeb to Dubai. “During this rally, a typical route with lots of sand and high dunes is awaiting us,“ said co-driver Michel Périn, who has already claimed two second places in the desert classic that has been staged since 1991. “The desert bivouac has also been part of the route in recent years, so it holds no surprises for us.“

In the FIA Cross-Country Rally World Cup title defender Volkswagen has only been contesting selected rallies during the 2006 season in preparation for the “Dakar“. With Giniel de Villiers/Dirk von Zitzewitz (South Africa/Germany) at the wheel of a Volkswagen Race Touareg 2 the Wolfsburg squad celebrated two victories this season in the Rallye Transibérico and in Morocco. In addition to the Volkswagen factory team, the field of 44 teams contesting the UAE Desert Challenge includes the Portuguese Team Lagos with Carlos Sousa/Andy Schulz (Portugal/Germany) in a second Race Touareg 2 entered by Phoenix Sport.

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