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Dakar 2007: Dakar-Break - has the time come for Volkswagen?

Be it Giniel De Villiers, leader of the overall rankings after finishing second the 2006 edition behind Alphand, or Carlos Sainz, who seems to be getting used to the desert in a rather fruitful year of learning, both leaders of the German squad, who also happen to lead in the overall rankings, can legitimately think about winning the Dakar indeed. So far, the track record of the Race Touareg has been free from any mistake. And if you add Carlos Sousa to the official drivers of the manufacturer, the track record is even more flattering: five stage victories out of seven, whilst the main rival, i.e. Mitsubishi has not yet found a way to get its victory teller running.

The team of last year’s winner Luc Alphand, which has four cars in the race that could all have claimed a right to victory, has ended up in Atar in a rather critical situation. Whilst both the former ski champ and the record holder of Dakar victories i.e. Stéphane Peterhansel have been delayed due to technical problems or small strategic errors, and are now respectively 24 and 33 minutes behind the South African, Masuoka is already at 1h11’ from the leader. Roma, who has lost all hopes of victory after somersaulting just 6km shy from the finish of the last special stage, is almost 7h behind.

There is still a long way to go and Mitsubishi is hanging on to the fact that the most selective stages are still to come. But it does remain that statistics - although statistics they may be - are not there to reassure Alphand and his mates. Indeed, we have to go back to 1989 to find traces of a winner, i.e. Vatanen, who was not dominating the race at rest day. Even worse, the last pilot who managed to turn the situation around at mid-race and change the name of the manufacturer in the lead was called Patrick Zaniroli. It was in 1985 and he drove a Mitsubishi Pajero.

Moreover, the arbiters of the duel between Mitsu and VW have had several reversals of fortune of their own. At BMW X-Raid, new recruit Jutta Kleinschmidt, delayed by technical problems, soon understood she would not be in the top 3 this year. But the brand was still well represented by Guerlain Chicherit, 6th in the overall rankings until he somersaulted out of the track en route to Zouerat. Jean-Louis Schlesser however kept his promise and got a ‘victory and a half’ finishing just 17 seconds after Gordon in Zouerat. But his flat tires and his problem with a jack during stage 7 to Atar have compromised his great design to manage to be ahead of the manufacturers on the Dakar.

Ranking 6th, Schlesser is nevertheless in the lead of the ranking of two-wheel drive buggies just before Bernard Errandonea, 13th in the overall rankings and also the first amateur in the car ranking. On the side of production vehicles, Jun Mitsuhashi and his Toyota were in the lead in Atar. But he only has a 20 minutes lead over Ronan Chabot (TOY) in a competition where being in the top 3 will be a close call between Chabot, Ratet (TOY), Belmondo (Nissan) and Strugo (NIS) who are all ranked within an 18-minute bracket. In the solo competition, Philippe Gache is leading the race; he is ranking 30th in the overall rankings but there are only two of the single-seater buggies in the race right now out of the five he designed.

In the truck race, the favourites have prematurely left the competition and the announced duel between Kamaz and Ginaf is therefore not on the agenda anymore. Chagin gave up after a bit of a fast and violent off-track that cost him an injury, whilst the De Rooy family has to leave the race due to technical problems. Hans Stacey, the only one who could resist Chagin in 2006, is benefiting from the situation and taking the lead in the overall ranking. He will now have to keep an eye on the support drivers of Chagin and De Rooy, i.e. Mardeev, who is more than 2hours behind and Van Ginkel, who is more than 3 hours behind.

2007/01/13 | 19:51 CET | Editor: MR/EP/ASO

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