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The four-time World Rally Champion Juha Kankkunen, with co-driver Juha Repo, will contest the 2005 Dakar Rally for Volkswagen. The two Finns will line up at the start with a Race-Touareg for the first time at the FIA World Cup finale, the UAE Desert Challenge, between the 11th and 15th October in Dubai. As a result, in addition to Jutta Kleinschmidt (2001) and Bruno Saby (1993), Volkswagen’s driver squad consists of a third former Dakar Rally winner (1988).
“We are extremely proud and happy that such an experienced driver decided to join Volkswagen”, explains Kris Nissen, Volkswagen Motorsport Director. “With the strengthening of our excellent driver squad by the addition of a four-time world champion we have made another decisive step in our preparation for the 2005 Dakar Rally.”
Juha Kankkunen, who has already completed his first test together with co-driver Juha Repo in the Race-Touareg, has high hopes: “During my first test in Turkey I was able to form my first impressions of both the team and the Race-Touareg. It was a very good start to our relationship. I was pleasantly surprised just how well the Race-Touareg handles. We want to learn at the rally in Dubai and fight up at the front during the Dakar Rally.”
Co-driver Juha Repo is also highly motivated: “It’s fantastic to tackle the Dakar challenge together with Juha after having competed in this rally alongside Ari Vatanen in January. I’ve been driving with Juha for so long. We speak the same language, are on the same wavelength – it fits perfectly. Juha has nerves of steel and trusts me completely. It takes a lot before we loose our cool. We are both really looking forward to the task that lies ahead with the Volkswagen Race-Touareg.”
Juha Kankkunen brings an enormous amount of experience to Volkswagen’s young Dakar project. During his unique career the Finn scored many pioneering successes and numbers among the World Rally Championship record holders. During his first complete World Rally Championship season in 1986, he became, at that time, the youngest ever World Champion at the age of 27. The following year he became the first ever driver to successfully defend his World Championship title. Kankkunen went down in history as the first four-time World Champion – a feat that was only equalled by Tommi Mäkinen. Twenty three World Championship rally victories was also an important milestone, which was only broken in 2002. Juha Kankkunen, who, in the past, drove for the same team with his new team colleague Bruno Saby, also immediately made his presence felt at the Dakar Rally, claiming victory immediately during his first and only participation to date in 1988.
Juha Repo, Juha Kankkunen’s co-driver since 1997, is also very familiar with Cross Country Rally sport: At the 2003 UAE Desert Challenge and the 2004 Dakar Rally the Finn navigated for his compatriot Ari Vatanen, who has already won the classic cross country event four times.
Volkswagen Motorsport, under the direction of Kris Nissen since 2003, made its debut with the diesel prototype Race-Touareg in January at the Dakar Rally. Bruno Saby reached the finish in sixth position after 11,000 kilometres, and Jutta Kleinschmidt presented Volkswagen with the first stage victory. Since then, and in preparation for the 2005 Dakar Rally, Volkswagen contested the Moroccan Rally in June, at which Bruno Saby scored two stage victories and Jutta Kleinschmidt was fourth overall and, in August, the Rally d’Orient in Turkey where the Race-Touareg, with Jutta Kleinschmidt at the wheel, scored the first podium finish with third position. Bruno Saby was leading till the penultimate day before damaging the suspension rather unluckily on a boulder. To date, the Race-Touareg can claim a total of seven stage victories.
The 27th running of the Dakar Rally starts in Barcelona on 1st January and finishes on 16th January in Dakar, the capital city of Senegal.