January's Dakar Rally promises to be the toughest yet for the Volkswagen works team and its squad of TDI-powered Race Touaregs, because the 30th running of the world's toughest motorsport event will be longer and more arduous than ever.Special stage distance has been lengthened by a third over last year, to 3562 miles, with the treacherous sand dunes of Mauritania set to provide much of the drama during the 16-day trek from Lisbon, Portugal, to the Senegalese capital of Dakar.
Volkswagen will field four works cars - for Spaniard Carlos Sainz, South African Giniel de Villiers, Germany's Dieter Depping and American Mark Miller - while a fifth Race Touareg will be run by customer team Lagos and driven by Portugal's Carlos Sousa. Volkswagen is bidding to become the first manufacturer to win the legendary classic with a diesel car.
Newly crowned FIA Cross-Country Rally World Champion Sainz says the 2008 Dakar will be his most arduous yet: `It will be longer, tougher and more difficult. We expect lots of sand dunes and there will be two cross-country legs after which we will be allowed no assistance from mechanics.'
Volkswagen Motorsport Director Kris Nissen added: `At almost 6000 timed kilometres we are in for a very long event, and many days will be spent in the dunes of Mauritania. It will be a great challenge but also a great strain: the drivers and co-drivers will be spending many hours in the cars on the long stages, which means the team will not be able to start work on the cars until late in the evening.'
He believes that the team has a good chance of success following recent tests and promising results in the UAE Desert Challenge in early November, in which Volkswagens finished second and third: `We drove a lot on sand on this event and it confirmed that we have achieved notable improvements on this type of terrain.'
`In Mauritania the rally will return to locations that have not been used on the rally for more than a decade,' said Dirk von Zitzewitz, who will co-drive for de Villiers. `The organisers have announced a number of so-called erg crossings - sand stages that have not previously been driven - and the famous Nega pass, near Kiffa, as special challenges. More than once in the past the outcome of the rally was decided on such types of stage.'
The Volkswagen team's Race Touaregs, powered by 2.5-litre TDI engines delivering 280hp, won ten of the 2007 Dakar's 14 special stages but failed to prevent Mitsubishi claiming a seventh successive overall victory. The Mitsubishi team, led by three-time victor Stphane Peterhansel, is likely to be Volkswagen's chief opposition once more. Volkswagen last won the Dakar in 1980, when Swede Freddy Kottulinsky drove his Iltis to victory.
The Dakar Rally gets underway on the 5th of January.
Date, Leg, Start - Finish, Special stage distance, Leg distance
05 Jan, 1, Lisbon - Portimo Portugal, 120 km, 486 km
06 Jan, 2, Portimo - Malaga Spain, 60 km, 535 km
07 Jan, 3, Nador, Morocco - Er Rachidia, 372 km, 717 km
08 Jan, 4, Er Rachidia - Ouarzazate, 356 km, 584 km
09 Jan, 5, Ouarzazate - Guelmim, 498 km, 834 km
10 Jan, 6, Guelmim - Smara, 454 km, 625 km
11 Jan, 7, Smara - Atr Mauritania 619 km, 829 km
12 Jan, 8, Atr - Nouakchott, 450 km, 531 km
13 Jan, Rest day
14 Jan, 9, Nouakchott - Nouhadibou, 525 km, 648 km
15 Jan, 10, Nouhadibou - Atr, 552 km, 685 km
16 Jan, 11, Atr - Tidjikja, 524 km, 692 km
17 Jan, 12, Tidjikja - Kiffa, 398 km, 531 km
18 Jan, 13, Kiffa - Kiffa, 484 km, 515 km
19 Jan, 14, Kiffa - Saint-Louis Senegal, 301 km, 757 km
20 Jan, 15, Saint-Louis - Dakar, 23 km, 304 km
Total distance 5,736 km, 9,273 km
The Volkswagen squad
Carlos Sainz (ESP) & Michel Prin (FRA) Sainz, 45, was World Rally Champion in 1990 and '92 and claimed 26 WRC rally wins. He joined the Volkswagen team in 2005, placed 11th on the '06 Dakar and finished ninth in 2007 after two stage wins. Carlos won the FIA Cross-Country Rally World Cup in early November.Sainz's co-driver Prin will celebrate his 51st birthday during the coming Dakar. Michel is a five-time winner of the FIA Cross-Country Rally World Championship and was the winning Dakar co-driver in 1994, '95 and '96. He's been with Volkswagen since 2004.
Giniel de Villiers (RSA) & Dirk von Zitzewitz (GER)After success in touring car racing in his native South Africa, 35-year-old de Villiers switched to cross-country rallying in 2001. He joined Volkswagen in mid-'05 and the following season won the Transibrico and Moroccan rallies for the team. Giniel's Race Touareg was placed second on the 2006 Dakar; he claimed four stage wins in '07.Von Zitzewitz was a successful motorbike enduro racer before taking up rally co-driving in 2002. This will be 39-year-old Dirk's fourth Dakar for Volkswagen; he co-drove with Robby Gordon and Mark Miller before joining de Villiers this year.
Mark Miller (USA) & Ralph Pitchford (RSA)Forty-five-year-old Miller has been competing off-road on two wheels and four since 1979. He is a class winner on both the Dakar and the Baja 1000, and joined Volkswagen in 2005. He was fifth overall on the '06 Dakar and was Volkswagen's highest-placed finisher, in fourth, this year.Pitchford used to be a Dakar Rally mechanic for drivers such as Luc Alphand and Colin McRae before turning his hand to co-driving. The 45-year-old partnered Miller on the 2006 and 2007 events.
Dieter Depping (GER) & Timo Gottschalk (GER)Depping has many years of success in road and stage rallying under his belt and was a support truck driver for Volkswagen on the 2007 Dakar. Forty-one-year-old Depping was one of the team of Golf GTI drivers who claimed class victory in this year's Nrburgring 24 Hours.At 33 the youngest on the squad, Gottschalk is an experienced national rally championship and WRC co-driver. He's been teamed with Depping since the beginning of the year.
Volkswagen Race Touareg 2
Five-cylinder `in-line' TDI diesel engine, two-stage supercharging system with turbochargers and intercooler located longitudinally behind the front suspension
Cubic capacity :
Air intake restrictor :
38 mm (FIA/ASO regulation)
Engine management :
Longitudinally mounted five-speed sequential race
Final drive :
Permanent four-wheel drive, three mechanical differentials with viscous locking
Hydraulically operated ZF Sachs three-plate ceramic clutch
Suspension front & rear :
Double wishbone, two ZF Sachs dampers with springs per wheel
Servo assisted rack and pinion steering
Brake system :
Front and rear ventilated disc brakes (320 mm diameter), aluminium brake calipers (six piston front and rear)
7.2" x 16"
BF Goodrich 235-85/16
Steel space frame, two-door carbon-fibre composite bodywork