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An important milestone on the way to the “Dakar”: the new Volkswagen Race Touareg 3 will experience its competitive debut at the Silk Way Rally through Russia (11–18 September).
The fascinating off-road marathon from Saint Petersburg to Sochi will be the big dress rehearsal and final test for the Dakar Rally through Argentina and Chile (01–16 January) where Volkswagen is striving to achieve the “hat-trick” with TDI diesel technology following its exploits in 2009 and 2010.
The brand new Race Touareg 3, now with an output of 310 hp and sporting the attractive design language of the production model, will be piloted by the Dakar winners Carlos Sainz/Lucas Cruz (E/E). The three other Volkswagen crews, Nasser Al-Attiyah/Timo Gottschalk (Q/D), Giniel de Villiers/Dirk von Zitzewitz (ZA/D) and Mark Miller/Ralph Pitchford (USA/ZA), will compete in the predecessor model, the Race Touareg 2, in Russia and will receive the new vehicle generation for the Dakar Rally in January as well.
“The Silk Way Rally is a task of enormous importance to us,” says Volkswagen Motorsport Director Kris Nissen, “because it is the only competition we’re tackling before the 2011 Dakar Rally and our aim of achieving the hat-trick there. We want to use the opportunity to not only test the material at this tough rally and to sharpen the senses of our drivers and co-drivers after an eight-month break in rally racing – but very clearly get our whole team to work together smoothly. After all, this is the ‘Dakar’ dress rehearsal for the engineers and technicians as well.”
Endurance run in competitive conditions: Race Touareg 3 is being put to the test
After more than 10,000 kilometres of testing in Spain and Morocco the new Race Touareg has to prove its prowess in competitive conditions for the first time at the Silk Way Rally: the powerful 4×4 with a TDI engine is in for a competition covering nearly 4,600 kilometres of which about 2,100 are timed. “After a nearly eight-month break in rally racing the whole team has to find the right rhythm,” says Carlos Sainz who won the “Dakar” in 2010 with Volkswagen. “Obviously, winning is always the goal – but this time we also want to demonstrate the progress we’ve made with the new car compared with the old one. So this event will be about two things: regaining our ‘Dakar’ speed and thoroughly testing the ‘RT3’ in competitive conditions.”
Demanding terrain for drivers and co-drivers as ideal preparation for the “Dakar”
The ceremonial start at the Palace Square with the impressive Winter Palace in St. Petersburg kicks off the Silk Way Rally on 11 September in a historic setting. From the world’s northernmost metropolis the first leg will lead to Staraya Russa and from there via Vyazma and Lipetsk to Volgograd. On the way to Sochi, the rally’s final destination and venue of the 2014 Winter Olympics, stage destinations in Astrakhan, Elista and Maykop are on the agenda. The route with eight special stages across North Russia featuring the sandy massifs of Kalmykia and the rough foothills of the Caucasus is regarded as ideal preparation for the Dakar Rally thanks to its multi-faceted terrain.
“Although the second Silk Way Rally has the same name as the first edition last year, it actually leads across a totally new route,” says Timo Gottschalk, who navigates Nasser Al-Attiyah. “With the start in St. Petersburg and the finish in Sochi we’re in for demanding terrain. There will be fast sections requiring high driving skills as well as many off-road and dune stretches. So we’re expecting a very quick rally that’ll be anything but easy.”
Chance for revenge: Sainz/Cruz to tackle team-internal duels unbeaten
Volkswagen is sending four driver/co-driver pairings with winning potential to the Silk Way Rally – the same duos who are scheduled to reach for the third consecutive “Dakar” title in January 2011 as well. Each of these duos is determined to show itself in top form before the desert classic and to fight for victory. This might even put an end to a string that has so far been unbroken: ever since Carlos Sainz and Lucas Cruz have been competing jointly for Volkswagen they have remained unbeaten: in addition to the 2010 “Dakar” victory, the track record of the purely Spanish pairing reflects exploits at the 2009 Silk Way Rally and the 2009 Rallye dos Sertões – three of the 13 cross-country rally wins achieved by Volkswagen to date.
Another “Dakar” winning duo – the South African Giniel de Villiers and his German co-driver Dirk von Zitzewitz – is aiming for victory in Russia too. The 2009 “Dakar” winners who celebrated the first diesel-powered victory in the automobile classification of the desert classic with Volkswagen are equally hungry for success as the “Dakar” runners-up in 2009 and 2010: Mark Miller/Ralph Pitchford (USA/ZA) and Nasser Al-Attiyah/Timo Gottschalk (Q/D). “I’ve still got some unfinished business with the Silk Way Rally,” says the Qatari Nasser Al-Attiyah. “I’ve good and bad memories of it. The good ones: Timo and I were leading the rally some of the time. The bad ones: after a rollover we were forced to retire just before the end. That’s why we’ve prepared ourselves even better for this competition. But the main focus is on the evolution of the Race Touareg 3 for which we want to gain as many findings as possible because our big aim is to win the ‘Dakar’ in January.”
13 victories, 39 podium places, 113 stage wins: Volkswagen is set on continuing exploits
With the Race Touareg 3 Volkswagen is set on continuing a unique success story. Volkswagen is the only manufacturer so far to have decided the automobile classification of the Dakar Rally in its favour with diesel technology. The statistics reflect 39 podium places in 28 rally runs – 13 of them wins. Since the launch of the Dakar Rally programme with the Race Touareg and the Race Touareg 2 in 2004 more than half of all stage exploits have gone to Wolfsburg: 113 out of 216 stage wins were clinched by a Race Touareg, with 37 stage wins having gone to the brand at the Dakar Rally itself – in six events so far.