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Volkswagen leads the Dakar Rally with three Race Touareg cars, ahead of Saturday’s rest day and after seven of the 14 legs. Carlos Sainz/Michel Périn (E/F) took over at the top on the seventh leg of the rally from Mendoza in Argentina to the Chilean city of Valparaíso.

The former front-runners and Volkswagen team colleagues, Giniel de Villiers/Dirk von Zitzewitz (ZA/D), trail them by just nine seconds. Mark Miller/Ralph Pitchford (USA/ZA), driving a third Race Touareg with a 280 hp TDI diesel engine, are now third overall.
 
Carlos Sainz achieved his third leg victory on today’s difficult leg, which included the first Andes crossing of this first "Dakar” to be held in South America, thus placing him back at the top of the leader board. The day’s special stage was shortened from 419 to 243 kilometres due to inclement weather and rainfall overnight resulted in some treacherous driving conditions. Mark Miller is celebrating a double victory, having posted the second fastest time of the day and thus having given his best performance so far in this year’s legendary "Dakar”, which has been a tough one right from the start.
 
Giniel de Villiers and Dirk von Zitzewitz ceded their lead today, after losing time due to a puncture and visibility problems on today’s muddy route, and were the sixth team to cross the finishing line. Dieter Depping/Timo Gottschalk, who lost a lot of time in the fourth Race Touareg yesterday, made good ground today to take twelfth place, moving them up in the overall rankings to ninth.
 
Volkswagen’s appraisal after seven legs: Volkswagen can lay claim to five leg victories and five days of leading the rally, and now dominates the event ahead of Mitsubishi, who have remained unbeaten in the "Dakar” since 2001. The second half of this desert classic will get under way on Sunday, after Saturday’s rest day which will primarily serve as an opportunity to thoroughly service the rally vehicles. Seven legs now remain, covering a total distance of 4,622 kilometres.
 
Kris Nissen (Volkswagen Motorsport Director)
"We have every reason to be happy with the first week of the rally. The Race Touareg is fast and reliable. Volkswagen is first, second and third overall, and we still have all four cars in the running. That’s a good provisional appraisal. But that’s all it is, because we know there are some really tough legs up ahead. Most of all, we need to remain completely focused. We can’t afford to let up – but so far, we are still on course.”
 
#301 – Carlos Sainz (E), 1st place leg / 1st place overall
"The Race Touareg performed perfectly in very difficult conditions and we are now back in the lead again. Today’s route was very fast, but the ground was very muddy because of the rain last night. The tracks were also full of potholes. Today was pretty tricky, so the outcome is all the more satisfying.”
 
#305 – Giniel de Villiers (ZA), 6th place leg / 2nd place overall
"We fell back because of some minor things today, unfortunately, and we’re now nine seconds short of the lead. First of all, we had to change a tyre. And then, at some point, there was no more water in the windscreen wiper tank. The wiper had to clear the mud from the windscreen without any water and eventually packed up, leaving us to navigate our way to the finishing line with very poor visibility.”
 
#307 – Dieter Depping (D), 12th place leg / 9th place overall
"The technicians and mechanics did an excellent job overnight, providing Timo (Gottschalk) and me with a perfect Race Touareg again, in spite of yesterday’s technical woes. So thanks to everyone for that. The whole team is working together fantastically. It was very hard having to start so far back today and having to overtake on such narrow tracks. But we managed to pass dozens of cars nonetheless.”
 
#308 – Mark Miller (USA), 2nd place leg / 3rd place overall
"This Dakar Rally is unbelievably demanding and is certainly living up to its reputation. The combination of rain and the fine fesh-fesh sand made it like driving on ice and this rally is really stretching us drivers. The Race Touareg ran like a dream in these conditions yet again. And the interim results for Volkswagen are just fantastic.”

Three questions for Fabrice van Ertvelde, Giniel de Villiers’ race engineer
 
As Giniel de Villiers’ race engineer, you are responsible for the technical servicing of his Race Touareg. What has been the most positive thing you have learned in the first week of this "Dakar”?
"It’s great to see the daily results and to see that we have put together a great vehicle, a car that can take us to the top of the Dakar Rally. It was also great to see how Giniel and Dirk returned their cars to us in mint condition after the first six legs. They are really taking care of their vehicle and are therefore also taking care of their mechanics.”
 
Giniel de Villiers has got off to a good start in the "Dakar”. Does this instil the service crew and the engineers with greater confidence? Or perhaps motivate them?
"It’s not so much a confidence boost, but it definitely does motivate us. When the vehicle you’re responsible for wins legs and leads in the rally overall, it gives everyone who works on it quite a motivational boost. Everyone knows that concentration is a hugely important asset. But all the crew members can focus more easily when their hard work bears fruit from a competitive point of view.”
 
The Dakar Rally is showing its meaner side. As a technician, can you tell what the vehicles have been through at the end of a leg simply by looking at them?
"It’s pretty normal for the cars to come in with a few scratches in the paintwork and some vegetation stuck in the radiator. But other than that, there wasn’t a single unusual or serious technical problem with Giniel’s car on the first six legs. This is partly down to his prudent driving style, but also has something to do with the extremely high failure rates when you look at the other teams around the Volkswagen service camp. We are getting the right leg results, so the Race Touareg is obviously a fast and reliable vehicle. And the good condition it’s in after the legs proves that it’s also a very tough cookie.”
 
Standings after stage 07, Mendoza (RA) – Valparaíso (RCH); 243/816 km stage 7/total
 
Pos.;    Team;    Vehicle;    Leg 7;    Overall time
1.    Carlos Sainz/Michel Périn (E/F);    Volkswagen Race Touareg 2;    2h35m27s (1st);    23h42m40s
2.    Giniel de Villiers/Dirk von Zitzewitz (ZA/D);    Volkswagen Race Touareg 2;    2h43m15s (6th)    + 9s
3.    Mark Miller/Ralph Pitchford (USA/ZA);    Volkswagen Race Touareg 2;    2h39m08s (2nd)    + 13m53s
4.    Nani Roma/Lucas Cruz Senra (E/E);    Mitsubishi Racing Lancer;    2h41m04s (4th)    + 29m16s
5.    Robby Gordon/Andy Grider (USA/USA);    Hummer;    2h39m40s (3rd)    + 1h08m21s
6.    Krzysztof Holowczyc/Jean-Marc Fortin (PL/B);    Nissan Navara;    2h49m23s (8th)    + 2h39m32s
7.    Ivar Tollefsen/Quin Evans (N/GB);    Nissan Navara;    2h56m30s (11th)    + 2h59m21s
8.    Orlando Terranova/Alain Guehennec (RA/F);    BMW X3;    3h57m24s (27th)    + 4h04m53s
9.    Dieter Depping/Timo Gottschalk (D/D);    Volkswagen Race Touareg 2;    3h00m28s (12th)    + 4h47m43s
10.    René Kuipers/Filipe Palmeiro (NL/P);    BMW X3;    3h23m18s (22nd)    + 4h59m51s

Coming up …
 
Saturday, 10 January: Rest day, Valparaíso (RCH). The rally vehicles won’t be going anywhere on the eighth day of the "Dakar”. But the sole rest day during the toughest rally in the world will only mean a welcome break for the drivers and co-pilots at best, as the mechanics will be giving the race vehicles a thorough going-over in the Chilean port of Valparaíso. Meanwhile, the racers can lap up the attention of the media spotlight.

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