Both Race-Touaregs crossing the finish line after 11,000 kilometres, Jutta Kleinschmidt clinching Volkswagen’s first stage victory, Bruno Saby finishing sixth overall – Volkswagen’s debut of the Race-Touareg in the 26th Dakar Rally was exceptionally successful, not only meeting, but surpassing, the brand’s stated goals.
“We’re more than satisfied, having fully achieved our objective of seeing both cars cross the finish line. Our sixth position overall and numerous excellent stage finishes prove the viability of the Race-Touareg’s concept and the fact that Volkswagen are on the right track,” Volkswagen Motorsport Director Kris Nissen summed up the results. “That we were able to celebrate our first stage victory with Jutta Kleinschmidt on the penultimate day of the ‘Dakar’ has exceeded our expectations. That’s the reward for the hard work by a highly motivated team and a good omen for the future.”
Obviously satisfied with the results, as well, was Professor Wilfried Bockelmann, board member in charge of technical development at Volkswagen AG, who had come to Dakar: “We wanted both Race-Touaregs to reach Dakar – this goal has been met. Things even went better than expected, as we had been hoping for stage finishes among the top five and have now even clinched our first stage victory. That’s simply sensational. My thanks go to the whole team headed by Kris Nissen. The right concept, good preparation and high reliability were the basic ingredients of this success. Now, we’re setting our aims on the next target: In the 2005 Dakar Rally, we want to be amongst the front runners.”
In summary, Volkswagen achieved the following results: Frenchman Bruno Saby and his British co-driver Matthew Stevenson were the sixth to reach the Senegalese capital of Dakar out of the total of 142 vehicles initially fielded in the rally. German driver Jutta Kleinschmidt, who lives in Monaco, and her Italian co-driver Fabrizia Pons finished 17th (pending the outcome of an appeal), after having suffered a technical failure resulting from an unexpectedly deep river crossing, which had made the ladies’ duo fall all the way back to the 123rd position overall. In the category of modified vehicles with four-wheel drive and diesel engines (Group 2.2), including 46 competitors, Bruno Saby finished second, Jutta Kleinschmidt sixth. In their respective cubic capacity class, Saby and Kleinschmidt clinched positions one and two with the innovative 2.3-litre TDI turbodiesel unit.
With a 57-percent retirement rate in the car category alone, this year’s Dakar Rally was one of the toughest in a long time. The Race-Touareg developed in the record-breaking period of less than 7 months excelled in delivering maximum reliability during the African rally. “Any technical problem encountered was almost exclusively caused by external influences,” Kris Nissen said. Volkswagen were the only works team to see all of their rally cars fielded in the world’s toughest desert rally make it across the finish line.
As the 18-day classic, having started in Clermont-Ferrand, France, on New Year’s day, continued to unfold, the team headed by Technical Director Eduard Weidl made use of the Race-Touareg’s strong development potential. Following extensive data analyses and resulting setup changes to the more than 230-hp strong four-wheel-driven vehicle, the drivers continued to pick up momentum on the demanding stages in Mauritania, Mali and Burkina Faso. Since stage 8, Jutta Kleinschmidt managed to score an unbroken, ten-day series of stage finishes among the top six. As the pinnacle of these exploits, the 2001 Dakar winner and co-driver Pons, the 1982 World Rally Vice-Champion in Michèle Mouton’s cockpit, celebrated victory on stage 16, leaving the competition behind by almost one minute. In addition to this win, Kleinschmidt,who has a degree in physics, clinched one second, one third, one fourth, one fifth and two sixth positions.
“From my point of view, this has been one of the toughest editions of the rally. But that’s exactly what the challenge for people and materials is all about. I’m very happy about the outcome, because the good results are highly motivating for the whole team and confirm the great potential inherent in this vehicle,” Kleinschmidt said.
“Kris Nissen’s team have done a remarkable job, staying fully focused on the task through to the end and preparing a fantastic car that made things go better for us from one day to the next.” Teammate Bruno Saby, who had his debut as a Volkswagen works driver, added: “When an automotive manufacturer finishes the toughest rally in the world among the top six with a completely new car concept, this is not something one can simply take for granted. The first impression I had gained in the tests back in November was confirmed in the competition: The Race-Touareg has impressive strengths, and each member of the team is highly competent, working hard towards the success of the whole team.”
According to Kris Nissen, the remarkable performance of the 43-member crew, which left Wolfsburg on 28 December with their two Race-Touaregs and a supporting squad, including five Touareg Competition vehicles and seven trucks, is attributable primarily to careful preparation.
“Our strategy of filling key positions with particularly experienced members from cross-country rallying fully paid off,” the Volkswagen Motorsport Director said. “A high degree of personal responsibility and independence, coupled with excellent team spirit, have helped us to successfully master the complexity of a such a giant event. Within an extremely short period of time, the entire team are dispersed across long distances, without being able to maintain constant communications due to the technical limitations encountered in the desert. For me, this has been a completely new experience as well, compared to circuit racing. It’s fascinating to be part of a team that have mastered the enormous stress exerted on people and materials so successfully. Now, we know how we can improve further. In 2005, we’ll be returning with an experienced team, relying almost completely on the same personnel.”
In a closing statement Kris Nissen said: “I would like to express my sincere appreciation to all of these team members and the people staying back in Hanover and Wolfsburg, as well as our drivers and co-drivers, who have perfectly translated our specified objectives into action. Congratulations also to Stéphane Peterhansel and Jean-Paul Cottret as well as the whole Mitsubishi Team on such a splendid victory. We will continue to develop and return next year, strong enough to join the ranks of those fighting for the top positions after a successful year of learning based on an exceptionally reliable car.”
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