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Wolfsburg (17 January 2009). Only when passing the toughest motorsport test with flying colours, only when winning ten of 13 possible stages, and only when thrilling millions of people along the rally route in the process – only then will it be deemed “Das Auto” (“The Car”).
Volkswagen won the 2009 Dakar Rally in Argentina and Chile with the Race Touareg and thus made motorsport history. The exploit clinched by the South African-German duo Giniel de Villiers and Dirk von Zitzewitz in the debut event of the legendary desert classic in South America marked the first ever victory of a diesel-powered vehicle in the automobile class in the 30-year-history of the “Dakar”. Their Volkswagen team colleagues Mark Miller/Ralph Pitchford (USA/ZA) as the runners-up completed the exploit as a one-two victory.
In the extremely tough test for man and material the Volkswagen Race Touareg with its innovative 280-hp TDI engine proved to be the fastest and most reliable car, while the field of contenders – featuring 14 top cars with diesel engines – was of a higher calibre than ever. Volkswagen defeated the serial “Dakar” winners, Mitsubishi, who had not been beaten since 2001, as well as the X-raid BMW team. Besides de Villiers/von Zitzewitz and Miller/Pitchford at the top, the German duo Dieter Depping/Timo Gottschalk in another Race Touareg finished the Dakar Rally, in sixth place overall. Carlos Sainz/Michel Périn (E/F) in another one of the Red Bull blue Race Touareg vehicles, who had been leading the class of the total of 168 cars that had started to the event on eight days, retired after an accident on the twelfth leg while leading the rally.
36-year-old Giniel de Villiers from Stellenbosch had already clinched second place at the “Dakar” in the Race Touareg in 2006. In 2003, the former South African touring car champion contested his first Dakar Rally, since 2006 he has been navigated by Dirk von Zitzewitz. The 40-year-old from Karlshof, and 15-time German Enduro champion, contested his first first “Dakar” on two wheels, switched into the cockpit as a co-driver in 2002, alongside Mark Miller by the way, and formed a team with Robby Gordon (2005) for Volkswagen as well. Since 2007 Dirk von Zitzewitz has been pointing the right way to Giniel de Villiers. 46-year-old Mark Miller from Phoenix/Arizona drove his first “Dakar” in 2002 and has been a Volkswagen factory driver since 2005, with Ralph Pitchford from Pretoria in his co-driver’s seat since 2006.
“Das Auto” prevails at “Dakar” straight from the start
Straight from the rally’s start, the Race Touareg crews set best stage times. A total of ten out of 13 possible stage wins at the “Dakar” went to Volkswagen, on twelve of the 14 rally days one of the cross-country rally prototypes from Wolfsburg was leading the event. The duo Carlos Sainz/Michel Périn decided six of the stages in its favour, while de Villiers/von Zitzewitz contributed four stage wins to the Race Touareg’s tally of success. In just five fieldings in the cross-country classic the prototype has achieved 31 stage victories since 2004, Volkswagen’s “Dakar” tally since 1980 reflects 38 stage wins. At the same time, the four Volkswagen pairings contesting this event showed a very close performance: On the 14 legs – one stage was cancelled by the organiser A.S.O. – the Volkswagen drivers occupied 24 of 39 possible top-three positions in the daily standings. Each of the duos finished at least three of the special stages in the top three places.
Race Touareg adds yet another chapter to TDI Power’s success story
For the Volkswagen Group, the Race Touareg’s “Dakar” victory also marked the continuation of a TDI success story. In motorsport, forward-thinking direct injection technology has now won in any of the fields in which it is being used: In addition to the exploit of the Race Touareg at the Dakar Rally, Audi – with the R10 TDI – celebrated its third consecutive victory at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in June 2008 and later won the title in the European Le Mans Series as well as in the American Le Mans Series, while SEAT in 2008 clinched its maiden title in the FIA World Touring Car Championship with the Léon TDI.
“Das Auto” thrills spectators along the toughest “Dakar” route
The Dakar Rally’s debut in South America has proved to be the toughest edition of the off-road classic so far as well as featuring a totally new change. Besides quick gravel stages – the first leg was completed at an average speed of 143 km/h – and long stretches of dune fields with soft sand, trial-like sections across scree, the two-time passage across the Andes with altitudes of up to 4,700 metres above mean sea level as well as sections with high camel grass were on the agenda of the “Dakar”. Unlike earlier editions, the rally’s daily variations of terrain put extreme demands on the adaptability of the teams.
Arriving at the bivouac and the locations where the legs finished provided an emotional reward to the drivers and co-drivers. Millions of thrilled spectators, 500,000 of them just during the ceremonial start in Buenos Aires on 2 January, lined the rally route and gave the total of 530 cross-country rally teams that had started to the event on motorcycles and quads as well as in cars and trucks an enthusiastic welcome every day.
Second “Dakar” exploit for Volkswagen after 1980
As early as in 1980 Volkswagen at its first – and for a long time only – entry won the Dakar Rally. Almost three decades ago, Freddy Kottulinsky and co-driver Gerhard Löffelmann won the second edition of the rally through Africa at the wheel of a Volkswagen Iltis, a nearly production-based car, followed by their French team-mates Patrick Zaniroli/Philippe Colesse – clinching a Volkswagen one-two victory back then as well. Two further Iltis vehicles finished in places four and nine. In 2003, Volkswagen returned to cross-country rally racing with breakthrough TDI technology, fielded the first generation of the Race Touareg in 2004 and won the FIA Cross Country Rally World Cup titles in 2005 and 2007. The one-two victory at the 2009 Dakar Rally marks the Race Touareg’s biggest single exploit.
Kris Nissen (Volkswagen Motorsport Director)
“We did it: We wanted to be the first automobile manufacturer to win the Dakar Rally with diesel power. We have now managed to do this, and with a one-two victory at that. Volkswagen can truly be proud of this historic triumph. We’ve got ‘Das Auto’, we’ve got ‘The Team’ and together we have won ‘The Race’. Celebrating a one-two victory at this extremely tough rally is a major achievement. We not only beat our strongest rivals, Mitsubishi and X-raid-BMW, but prevailed against the Dakar Rally itself. It was more challenging, demanding and murderous on the material than ever. But Volkswagen was tougher, more reliable: Three of our four cars reached the finish, and not one of the Race Touareg vehicles retired due to a technical problem. I want to congratulate and thank the entire team and our successful drivers and co-drivers.”
#305 – Giniel de Villiers (ZA), 1st place leg / 1st place overall
“I’m so happy about having clinched this exploit for Volkswagen. This victory is worth more than any of the titles I won in touring car racing. The twelfth leg was the crucial day. Just before it I’d thought we’d be finishing in third place. I kept thinking about how our rival Stéphane Peterhansel lost the rally with a huge lead one day before the finish in 2003. And so we again led the rally after the twelfth leg as well. The Race Touareg was running absolutely like a charm, and at such a tough edition of the Dakar Rally at that. That was the key to success. I want to thank everyone at Volkswagen for this. Even though I’ve now ended up winning precisely the ‘Dakar’ that was not staged in Africa, which is home to me: It was definitely a genuine Dakar Rally, and the toughest edition I’ve ever contested.”
#305 – Dirk von Zitzewitz (D), co-driver
“I’m filled with incredible joy and relief. Up to the very end there was enormous pressure on us, and I only believed in our success after we’d completed the last special stage. I’ve experienced disappointments in motorsport only too often. This result with Volkswagen is simply fantastic! After completing the incredibly tough twelfth leg, I had a feeling that we could make it. If not now, when should we? And it worked out. It’s the biggest exploit in my career on both two and four wheels – it’s simply a dream.”
#308 – Mark Miller (USA), 6th place leg / 2nd place overall
“That’s a great result for Volkswagen after a difficult rally. It’s nice to have contributed to the brand’s one-two victory. This rally certainly compares well with the editions in Africa – it was extremely tough. I perceived the special stage from Fiambalá to Rioja as being the most difficult one I’ve ever contested. That was an edition of the rally I’ll definitely never forget. The Volkswagen team and the Volkswagen Race Touareg never let us down on this long drive.”
#308 – Ralph Pitchford (ZA), co-driver
“Congratulations to Volkswagen on this fantastic result – a wonderful rally, which was a lot of fun and very, very demanding for the drivers and co-drivers. This rally will be unforgettable not least because it ended with the best result for Mark and me. The car was outstanding and we took it to the finish in one piece.”
#301 – Carlos Sainz (E)
“We set the pace for a long time at the Dakar Rally and led it for a long time as well. That’s why it was a particularly bitter pill for my co-driver Michel Périn and me that we were forced to retire after an accident on the twelfth leg. One must never underestimate the Dakar Rally and prevail against it before being able to win. I congratulate my team colleagues Giniel de Villiers and Dirk von Zitzewitz on their ‘Dakar’ victory. They deserved winning this tough rally.”
#301 – Michel Périn (F), co-driver
“Congratulations to Volkswagen, to Giniel and Dirk – a fantastic result for the brand, to which we’d have liked to contribute as well. Unfortunately, we didn’t manage to do this although we had the best prospects almost up to the end of the rally. But that’s the ‘Dakar’.”
#307 – Dieter Depping (D), 13th place leg / 6th place overall
“A super success for Volkswagen, and I’m proud to be part of this team. I personally experienced the capabilities of TDI diesel power during the rally several times when I surmounted seemingly insurmountable dunes with the Race Touareg after all. For my co-driver Timo Gottschalk and me, the Dakar Rally had both ups and downs. With good stage results, as well as with good intermediate times, we showed that we can keep up with the big names in cross-country rally sport and beat them. My special thanks go to my mechanics who always gave us a perfectly prepared car despite working additional night shifts and who, like the rest of the team, really backed us in a tremendous way. I’d have liked giving them an even better result. Despite several setbacks we struggled through and, in the end, sixth place overall is a good result.”
#307 – Timo Gottschalk (D), co-driver
“The Dakar Rally has found a new home in Argentina and Chile. The special stages were tougher and more varied than ever. The continually changing terrain is one of the new challenges, which puts high demands on the driver and co-driver’s adaptability. In addition, the enthusiastic audience gave us a thrilling welcome along the daily legs. This has been a great debut of the ‘Dakar’ in South America, at which Dieter Depping and I had to deal with setbacks as well, though. But that’s part of it. The Volkswagen team performed an impressive feat and definitely deserves this one-two victory.”