Four months before the start of the Dakar Rally preparations at Volkswagen for the two-week cross-country classic are entering their “hot phase”. As part of its intensive test and development programme Volkswagen is fielding four Race Touareg 2 cars in the Morocco Rally (25-30 September), the fourth round of the FIA Cross-Country Rally World Cup.

The event will be contested by factory drivers Carlos Sainz/Michel Périn (Spain/France), Giniel de Villiers/Dirk von Zitzewitz (South Africa/Germany) and Mark Miller/Ralph Pitchford (USA/South Africa) as well as the pairing of Carlos Sousa/Andreas Schulz (Portugal/Germany) in the customer team Lagos.

"Over the past few months the Race Touareg was subjected to pinpoint further development with regard to the upcoming Dakar Rally," commented Volkswagen Motorsport Director Kris Nissen. "Most recently, the team with all the drivers completed an intensive and successful test in Tunisia. But tests are one thing and the preparation in an actual race is another important factor. Now we need to try out the findings from the test in the competitive conditions of the Morocco Rally. As the first legs of the Dakar Rally will also lead through Morocco, the stages of this World Cup rally are an ideal test terrain for us."
For the Volkswagen Touareg powered by a 285-hp 2.5-litre TDI diesel engine, the Morocco Rally marks the second fielding in the 2007 Cross-Country Rally World Cup. In the Transibérico Rally in early June Carlos Sainz and his co-driver Michel Périn celebrated their first victory for Volkswagen. It was Volkswagen’s sixth victory in 18 rallies that have so far been contested with the Race Touareg. In addition, the car’s track record includes 18 podium places, 54 stage victories and 48 days of leading an event.
Morocco as preparation for the 2008 Dakar Rally
"I’m looking forward to the competition in Morocco," said Volkswagen factory driver Carlos Sainz. "Of course I’m even more motivated after our victory in the Transibérico Rally. Besides that, our test in Tunisia was very positive. There, I had the opportunity to work to work on the set-up for the Dakar Rally and the upcoming event in Morocco and to do a few valuable long runs.”
For Carlos Sainz, this is the second competition in Morocco. "I’m expecting a tough rally, not only for the drivers but also for the technology. This rally can provide us with good findings for the ‘Dakar’. I want to primarily use it for fine-tuning the set-up. At the same time, it’s my goal to fight for victory again and to intensify the team-work with my co-driver Michel Périn." Carlos Sainz‘s co-driver Michel Périn was victorious for Volkswagen in Morocco back in 2005 alongside Bruno Saby.
"For me, the Morocco Rally is almost a home race," said Volkswagen factory driver Giniel de Villiers, one of the most successful drivers in Morocco. Back in 2003 he won in North Africa, in the 2005 season he celebrated his début with the Volkswagen factory team as the runner-up, and in 2006 he clinched the top position on the podium again. "We’re expecting a mix of hard stony stretches and boulders and we’ll probably be crossing a few chains of dunes as well. From experience we know that the dunes south of Zagora are tricky,” added co-driver Dirk von Zitzewitz. "We’ll probably see an interesting team-internal competition between the Volkswagen drivers."
Mark Miller anticipates new impressions galore from the upcoming competition. "This will be the first time for me to contest the Morocco Rally on four wheels. That’s why I’m very eager to see what’s in store for us,” said the American, who has been a member of the Volkswagen factory team since 2005. "I know parts of the route from the Dakar Rally, and in 1998 I also contested the ‘Atlas Rally‘ in Morocco on a motorcycle."
Morocco "experts” include Carlos Sousa who – with co-driver Andreas Schulz – pilots a Race Touareg in the customer team Lagos. "I have contested this rally on numerous occasions,” commented the Portuguese. "But this does not give me a competitive advantage because the route changes every year. Even the regions in which the rally is staged vary frequently. My favourite is Carlos Sainz because he proved that he is very strong on the hard, rally-typical routes like in the one in Morocco.”
Demanding route with start in Zagora and finish in Ouarzazate
A total of six demanding legs across 1730 timed kilometres are awaiting the teams in the Morocco Rally. Compared to previous years, there are two changes: The rally centre was moved to Zagora in the south of Morocco and for the first time the rally is being staged in autumn instead of early summer in order for the teams and drivers to benefit from the cooler temperatures. The fourth round of the Cross-Country Rally World Cup will start in the desert oasis of Zagora in the picturesque Vallée du Drâa on 25 September. The route includes four loops around Zagora. After a 344-kilometre leg from Zagora to Ouarzazate on 29 September there will be a final stage circling Ouarzazate, where the teams are expected to finish on 30 September after a total of 2300 kilometres.

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