The world's greatest motorsporting challenge, the Dakar Rally, switches continents to South America next month after 29 editions of the event in Africa, and four TDI-powered Volkswagen Race Touaregs will be at the Buenos Aires startline on 3 January to help make history.
Fifteen competitive legs will take the `Dakar' drivers through Argentina and Chile - from the Atlantic to the Pacific and back - through terrain sure to make extreme demands on both man and machine.
The four Volkswagen factory teams possess a wealth of experience: double World Rally Champion Carlos Sainz (Spain) will be navigated by the renowned cross-country rally co-driver Michel Prin (France); Giniel de Villiers (South Africa) - with four overall wins the most successful Volkswagen driver in cross-country rally sport - is partnered by Germany's Dirk von Zitzewitz; Mark Miller (USA) is teamed with Ralph Pitchford (South Africa) and there is an all-German duo in the form of Dieter Depping and Timo Gottschalk.
Volkswagen and its team members have racked up some impressive results in recent months: Sainz won April's Central Europe Rally and was second in Portugal in September, while de Villiers and Miller claimed a resounding 1-2 for Volkswagen in Brazil in June.
`The Volkswagen team is looking forward to the event with eager anticipation,' says Volkswagen Motorsport Director Kris Nissen. `The Dakar Rally's debut in South America is one of the biggest challenges Volkswagen has tackled so far. We will be giving everything to add the greatest victory of all to the team's impressive tally of successes. Everyone in the team knows that we're strong enough to reach this goal. Yet the sport - and particularly the Dakar Rally - always offers surprises. We will work with concentration in order to prevail against strong rivals in extremely tough conditions.'
The 2009 `Dakar' offers new challenges galore: the 9000 km route through Argentina and Chile is new terrain not only for the drivers and co-drivers but also for the technicians and engineers, who will be put to the test regarding vehicle set-up and maintenance thanks to the constantly changing landscape along the rally route.
The team's logisticians have to deliver top performances before and during the Dakar too: the Andres must be crossed twice during the rally. As well as extreme altitudes of more than 4000 m, the teams will have to cope with a mix of different types of terrain, including hard, stony sections at the beginning of the rally and a passage through the Atacama desert.
In addition to the four Race Touaregs and their crews, the Volkswagen team comprises 23 vehicles and 80 personnel. The competition vehicles are serviced overnight in the Volkswagen bivouac, ahead of the next day's challenges. The service area is not only where members of the crew work, but also where they sleep; each team member is equipped with a kitbag containing a one-man tent, a sleeping mat and a sleeping bag. Volkswagen has its own power generators and a well-stocked mobile kitchen, and is therefore not affected by the varying facilities to be found along the way - important if the team needs to be well rested, even after long days and short nights.
They will have to contend with some extreme climatic conditions. In the austral summer of Argentina and Chile, for example, daytime temperatures can rise to 40 deg C in the shade, and then plummet to zero at the higher altitudes at night. The air can be humid or it can be extremely dry - and the mechanics, technicians and engineers will have to remain focused at all times. The good health of everyone involved, including the right nutrition, is also an important issue, so there is a team doctor available at all times.
At the heart of the Volkswagen Race Touareg is its 2.5-litre turbodiesel engine. `This powerplant offers a number of advantages for use in cross-country rally racing,' says Donatus Wichelhaus, Head of Engine Development at Volkswagen Motorsport. `The engine develops very good torque, which has a positive effect particularly on sandy ground. Due to its lower consumption a diesel-powered vehicle can start to a long leg with a smaller amount of fuel in the tank. The weight advantage compared to a car with a spark-injection engine can thus be as much as 200 kg.'
The TDI engine delivers a power output of 280 PS and develops in excess of 600 Nm of torque thanks to its innovative twin turbocharger. Two-stage supercharging results in better driveability of the engine and extends the usable torque range.
The 2009 Dakar Rally gets underway from Buenos Aires on 3 January and finishes back in the Argentinian capital on the 18th, 9500 km later, of which distance 5600km will be driven against the clock.