DAKAR 2010 – VW under siege


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Now is the time to make it count. Last year, the Volkswagen team achieved victory by placing a diesel-powered vehicle on the highest step of the Dakar podium for the first time. Giniel De Villiers, who embodies the winning combination virtuosity, performance and caution at high speed, triumphed at the end of a ‘knock-out’ race that eliminated in particular his team-mate and winner of 6 special stages Carlos Sainz three days from the finishing line! Despite the fall of the “Matador”, with Mark Miller in second place, Volkswagen put another Race Touareg on the podium. However, this show of force is by no means a guarantee of an easy stroll through the second South American edition of the Dakar, which starts on Friday the 1st of January.

Though the German team boasts a wealth of resources, this could in fact be its Achilles heel. The acquisition of the lively Nasser Al Attiyah has added competition which should encourage excellence, but it can also push drivers into taking needless risks and suffering the consequences. On the Rally Dos Sertoes, then the Silk Way Rally, the Qatari driver led majestically until the day before the finish, but each time hastiness caused his downfall, to the benefit of his rival for the title, Carlos Sainz. In a race that is twice as long, the possibility of another disaster is likely! Nobody knows whether Giniel De Villiers will once again be well placed to be the winner who takes all.

The withdrawal of Mitsubishi could have been considered by VW as convenient, removing its most threatening rival. Instead, the comings and goings of drivers between teams has turned the situation on its head, giving new hope to the BMW X3s. By hiring Stéphane Peterhansel and Joan “Nani” Roma, the X-Raid team has gained two outstanding drivers and especially two meticulous performance tuners who, it would seem, have managed to transform the car by dint of tests and adjustments. With greater reliability and stability, the X3 could be a more serious rival to the Race Touareg than in 2009 in Argentina and Chile. What’s more, X-Raid can count on a consistent group with the presence of Guerlain Chicherit, world champion in the discipline in 2009.

Whilst the superiority of diesel technology over petrol engines is taken as given for most competitors, one dissenting voice is that of Robby Gordon. The American demonstrated on the race tracks that his talent is not restricted to hyping himself up, by finishing 3rd in last year’s Dakar. With a temperament like his, he will be seeking to do even better! Lastly, the Mitsubishi Lancers, which left the Dakar under a cloud, will be returning with more modest ambitions, but perhaps a new destiny. In the meanwhile, they were bought by a native of Marseille Nicolas Misslin, then stripped of their diesel engines which were replaced by petrol engines more suited to the structure. Portugal’s Carlos Sousa and Argentine Orlando Terranova have been entrusted with ensuring a respectable finish.