VW occupies the first five positions after opening stage The opening day’s stage in Portugal was won by local matador Carlos Sousa with his German co-driver Andreas Schulz in a Volkswagen Race Touareg 2 entered by Lagos Team. Giniel de Villiers/Dirk von Zitzewitz finished second for Volkswagen in a Race Touareg 2 on the 464 kilometer long stage from Lisbon to Portimao. The hoards of spectators lining the sandy stage witnessed an exciting tussle for third place: Carlos Sainz with co-driver Michel Périn and Ari Vatanen/Fabrizia Pons recorded identical times at the stage finish. Fifth place went to Mark Miller/Ralph Pitchford in another Volkswagen Race Touareg 2. Only 3:56 minutes separate the first five drivers, the closest rival – Guerlain Chicherit in a BMW X3 – trails by another minute.
The successful opening day continues a trend for Volkswagen: Now, for the third year in succession a Race Touareg driver tops the leader board to start the world’s toughest desert rally on the way to Dakar. Carlos Sainz led the field last year at the beginning, and a year before Robby Gordon did just that. The Volkswagen Touareg has now recorded its 42nd stage victory and 37th day leading the field since its rally career started in 2004.
Snippets from Volkswagen bivouac
- Media bustle around Volkswagen factory drivers: The Volkswagen drivers were in the spotlight before the start of the Dakar Rally. Ari Vatanen, Carlos Sainz, Mark Miller and Giniel de Villiers and their co-drivers used the days leading to the start of the cross country classic to give interviews, and posed for photographs at technical scrutineering before signing autographs for employees from the Volkswagen factory "Autoeuropa” and met guests of the Volkswagen importers for informal chats. After the start in Lisbon the four Volkswagen duos concentrate solely on rally events.
- Lisbon retains start location status: The Dakar Rally started from Lisbon for the second time. Like the debut year, in 2007 the technical and administrative scrutineering on Thursday was also extremely well attended. The ‘Dakar’ will again start in Lisbon in 2008. Portugal’s Sport Minister Pedro Silva Pereira emphasized the interest of his country to extend the cooperation beyond 2008.
- Farewell colleagues: The Volkswagen factory team must bid farewell after the stages held on the Iberian Peninsula. The ten ‘European Group’ employees, who supported the team before the start, return to Germany in the evening. The remaining group also splits-up: While the factory drivers and their race engineers stay overnight in Portimão on the Algarve, the majority of the 78-head team set-off for Algeciras, from where the ferry for the support Armada sets sail to Africa.
Three questions to Volkswagen factory driver Carlos Sainz
This is your second Dakar Rally start, how do you feel? "I drove a lot of tests last season and competed in three Cross Country Rally World Cup events. Especially since starting the UAE Desert Challenge, where we were able to win three stages, I feel that I’ve collected a great deal of experience on sand and in the desert. However, the ‘Dakar’ is tough and when compared to drivers like Ari Vatanen I’m a relative newcomer in this sport.”
You were able to win the opening stages in Portugal last year. Is the pressure greater now as a result? "It's a completely different ball game this year. The stages are completely different this year, which is why we couldn’t draw on much of last year’s information. In general, however, both of the opening stages suit me because they are typical rally stages.”
Do you go to the limit on these stages? "No, since you stand to lose much more than you can win on these short stages. It’s important for me to get through these relatively short Portuguese stages without problems. At the end of the day, the only thing that counts is the result after crossing the finish line in Dakar after two weeks of rallying. Also, it’s not possible to drive on the limit when you have to follow a road book without notes.”
Standings after stage 1, Lisbon (P) – Portimão (P); 117/464 km stage 1/total
Sunday, 7 January: Stage 2, Portimão (P) – Malaga (E): 67 km stage/545 km total. The route follows a hard track through the mountains. The drivers must look after their cars on this typical World Rally Championship type stage, because the time allowed for servicing is short: A long liaison stage to Malaga is on the agenda in the afternoon, from where the competition vehicles will catch the ferry to Nador in Morocco.
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