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Volkswagen has reason for optimism after successfully passing the acid test along the unusually rough stages held over the last three days of the Dakar Rally. Since the start of the seventh stage last Wednesday up till Friday the teams had to cover 2183 kilometres between Morocco and Mali, 1792 of these against the clock. Over the course of these three days the works drivers Jutta Kleinschmidt/Fabrizia Pons and Bruno Saby/Matthew Stevenson produced convincing evidence to the potential of the newly developed Race-Touareg. The German-Italian lady duo sparkled with second place on the eighth and the third fastest time on the ninth stage. Bruno Saby, previously only 13th, improved six positions over the three days to claim seventh overall.
On the toughest stages of the desert classic held up to now, both teams delivered their personal best performances of the event. And all this in spite of the fact that bone jarring tracks and dune routes in Africa contained three superlatives: The longest leg on Wednesday with 1055 kilometres, the longest special stage on Friday with 736 kilometres and the special conditions of a partial service ban on the marathon-stage on Thursday complicated the conditions even more. The crews of Franz Echter/Johannes Lehrer/Detlef Ruf and Klaus Leihener/ Walter Bachhuber/Marco Kirst manning the two Race Trucks entered by Volkswagen were the only support permitted in the bivouac at the end of the eighth stage.
After this enormous stress, which included long night shifts lasting till sunrise, the Volkswagen team is delighted about two days without the stress of competition. Instead of the stages planned for the 10th and 11th January, the organiser changed the route in favour of pure liaison stages to the interim finish point Bobo Dioulasso, where a rest day is planned on Monday. Of course, this diversion also does not mean relaxation: At least 900 kilometres must be completed on the road from Nema to Bamako on Saturday, and approximately 540 kilometres on Sunday to the rest camp in the Burkina Faso.
“We are exceptionally pleased with the performance of our entire team and drivers. Both Race-Touareg cars are running almost faultlessly, the problems previously encountered could be traced back to external influences on this extremely tough Dakar”, says Volkswagen Motorsport Director Kris Nissen. “An enormous compliment must go to the complete team whose motivation never buckled in spite of the extreme circumstances. When one thinks that of the 117 cars which started the seventh stage, only approximately 50 competitors mastered the ninth stage then we can look forward with cautious optimism to the remaining 3320 Kilometres.”
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