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Dakar 2007: Lead has changed - in the Volkswagen Team.

Volkswagen maintains its one-two lead but a change at the top of the leader board before the rest day makes the 29th Dakar Rally even more thrilling: Giniel de Villiers/Dirk von Zitzewitz took the lead, having clinched their second stage victory on the way from Zouérat to Atâr in Mauritania.

The South African-German duo that won the stage ahead of French Mitsubishi driver Stéphane Peterhansel and the Spanish-French Volkswagen factory team of Carlos Sainz/Michel Périn is lying 1.39 minutes in front of Sainz/Périn after seven stages in the Race Touareg. Up to the halfway point Volkswagen scored five of seven possible stage victories, with the Race Touareg 2 having maintained the lead throughout the rally since it started on 6 January.

With Mark Miller/Ralph Pitchford (USA/South Africa) in the factory Race Touareg in eighth position and Carlos Sousa/Andy Schulz (Portugal/Germany) in the Race Touareg of Team Lagos in ninth, a total of four Volkswagen contenders are among the top ten of the overall classification. Both teams suffered major time losses on the seventh day of the rally. For four-time Dakar winner Ari Vatanen and his Italian co-driver Fabrizia Pons the rally ended prematurely because vehicle caught fire. Due to a sand storm, the seventh stage was shortened from the original length of 542 to 407 kilometres.

Kris Nissen (Volkswagen Motorsport Director): "The difficult part of the rally only started today. This makes the fact that after another stage victory two of our cars are running in front even better. We have further expanded our advantage over the best Mitsubishi. We are fully aware of the difficulties of the special stages in Mauritania, and now we're starting the rest day at the top of the leader board for the first time. The second week of the rally will again start with very tough stages. Only there the decision will be made. On the day of rest we're going to prepare ourselves as best we can."

Giniel de Villiers (RSA), 1st place (leg) / 1st place overall: "I'm happy that we've taken the lead by claiming stage victory on such a difficult day. After ten kilometres we took the wrong way, after that, we formed a group of vehicles with Stéphane Peterhansel, Robby Gordon and Carlos Sainz. The car was running very well, even on an 80-kilometer leg across camel grass it felt like a charm."

Carlos Sainz (E), 3rd place (leg) / 2nd place overall: "Visibility was absolutely poor in the sand storm today, nevertheless the day generally went quite well for us. We lost the lead because twice we got stuck in the dunes. In these incidents the improved sand panels and, above all, our intensive practice paid off tremendously because we got out in a relatively short time. When things threatened to get tough again a third time we stopped in time to let some air out of the tyres."

Mark Miller (USA), 11th place (leg) / 8th place overall: "After 75 kilometres we had a fuel pressure problem. Ultimately, we had to stop and analyse the cause. Fortunately we managed to repair the defect, even though it cost us 45 minutes. After that, the TDI engine was running perfectly again. When we reached the finish we were surprised to still be in eighth position overall."

The longest day: At 817 kilometres, the eleventh leg of the Dakar Rally from Tan Tan to Zouerat was the longest of all, and it turned the night into day: At five a.m. the first team members got up to warm up the engines of the four Race Touareg diesel prototypes in preparation for the team members' departure. In the evening the factory drivers arrived at the bivouac at around 5 p.m. where no technical crew was waiting for them for a change. The reason was that the accompanying squad was only allowed to start its journey after the competition vehicles. On account of the 720-kilometre service route the service vehicles did not reach the day's destination in Mauritania until after 6 p.m.

No rest for technical crew: The day of rest in Atar means a small break to recharge their batteries for Volkswagen's factory drivers. The factory team's mechanics, though, are in for a long night because at the halfway point the Volkswagen Race Touareg 2 prototypes are subjected to technical inspections and prepared for the seven stages before the finish in Dakar on 21 January. Furthermore, scheduled changes of the gearbox, differentials, brake disks and steering box are on the agenda as well as thorough inside and outside cleaning of the vehicles.

2007/01/12 | 21:26 CET | Editor: MR/EP/ASO

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