Desert challenge ahead for Volkswagen’s Vatanen & Sainz
The Volkswagen factory team will next week (5-10 Nov) undertake a vital dress rehearsal for January’s Dakar Rally by mounting an assault on the UAE Desert Challenge, final round of the FIA Cross Country Rally Championship.
Two works TDI-powered Race Touareg 2 prototypes will be at the Abu Dhabi startline, one for double World Rally Champion Carlos Sainz and his co-driver Michel Périn and another for Volkswagen’s latest signing, four-time Dakar victor Ari Vatanen, who will be co-driven by Fabrizia Pons. A third, privately entered Touareg will be in the hands of Carlos Sousa and Andreas Schulz.
‘The UAE Desert Challenge is the traditional dress rehearsal for the Dakar Rally,’ said Volkswagen Motorsport Director Kris Nissen. ‘We will be up against the Mitsubishi factory team, so it is a real performance check. It is also an opportunity for Carlos Sainz to get another opportunity to drive on sand, and for Ari Vatanen to drive the Race Touareg 2 in a competitive environment.’
Spaniard Sainz and Finland’s Vatanen are this week completing a major test programme in Tunisia with their Volkswagen Dakar team-mates Giniel de Villiers and Mark Miller.
Vatanen, 54, is relishing his new challenge: ‘Volkswagen has been pursuing the Dakar project with great ambition and a high level of motivation – I wanted to be part of that. I have got to know both the car and the team and I am convinced that we will have a chance of victory.’ Vatanen was World Rally Champion in 1981 and won the Dakar in 1987, ’89, ’90 and ’91.
The Volkswagen team has enjoyed a remarkably successful 2006 season. In January South African de Villiers claimed second place – a diesel record – on the Dakar and followed that up with victories in May’s Rally Transiberico and June’s Morocco Rally.
The UAE Desert Challenge gets underway with a Super Special stage in Dubai on Sunday 5 November, with the rally’s first proper leg, from Abu Dhabi to Moreeb, taking place the following day. There are five legs and 1520 km of special stages facing the competitors ahead of the Dubai finish on Friday 10 November.