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Dakar 2008: Mark Miller - "We want to win the Dakar Rally 2008".

When Mark Miller and Ralph Pitchford start to the Dakar Rally in Lisbon on 05 January the atmosphere in the cockpit of the 280-hp Volkswagen Race Touareg is guaranteed to be good. "Ralph and I get along great," says Miller. The American and his South African co-driver are not only a harmonious pairing on the personal level: Having finished in fourth place overall - and thus as the best Volkswagen team in the 2007 Dakar Rally - they also claimed a sporting success in their first joint running in a rally.

Mark Miller and Ralph Pitchford have a lot in common: Both are 45 years old, former Enduro drivers, and they love the solitude of the desert. An advantage for perfect communication in the cockpit: Both are native speakers of English and know exactly what counts with regard to achieving optimum communication in the stressful conditions of a rally. "We’ve known each other since 1999 when we competed against each other in a motorcycle race in Portugal," Miller recalls. "We hit it off straight away and never lost contact." When he was looking for a new co-driver at the end of 2006 he chose the South African: "Ralph is very professional, he always works calmly and with utmost concentration."

Since both have a track record of competing in desert rallies on motorcycles they have a similar sporting background: Either of them is able to navigate as well as to drive a vehicle in offroad terrain - so they are both intimately familiar with the work done by the other. And this affects the way they work together: "On the special stages there’s no unnecessary discussion. All instructions are given in a factual and precise style. I don’t praise Ralph but neither do I criticise him if something should go wrong," explains Miller. "He acts the same way. We have a lot of respect for each other."

Miller is a man with clear principles: In his youth he sacrificed a career as an Enduro driver in order to concentrate on his university education. The successful investment manager later reversed his course, withdrawing from the world of business in order to fully focus on his racing commitment as a Volkswagen factory driver. "Mark is very relaxed in the car and a prudent driver. He often even acts a bit conservatively, which is a good prerequisite for cross-country rally racing.

However, he is aggressive enough to drive really fast," says Pitchford, who is also responsible for taking care of his driver on the long special stages of the Dakar Rally. "Mark is like a child then, he needs something to eat every hour to keep his energy level high," reveals the co-driver with a smile, who hands small bits of food to his driver at the wheel. "At a speed of 120 kph on hard offroad tracks feeding the driver while giving roadbook instructions has a touch of slapstick humour," Miller laughs.

When it comes to his fitness the Volkswagen factory driver does not cut any corners. Up to the start of the "Dakar" he trains in a centre for competitive sports in the USA that also provided professional advice to soccer coach Jürgen Klinsmann. "I’m doing a programme that was developed specifically for me," explains Miller. "After all, I’m an athlete who is preparing for the most important race of his career."

Ralph Pitchford, as well, spends up to five hours per day in a fitness training programme. "A good physical condition helps a co-driver to concentrate in the cockpit for hours on end or to really lend a helping hand with a tyre change," comments the South African who used to work as a mechanic for motorcycle and car teams and drove Enduro races himself. When a co-driver had to be replaced in 2004 at short notice he was given a chance as a navigator and was successful in his new job straight away.

The places where Miller and Pitchford live are many flight hours apart - consequently, they do not often invite each other over for a cup of coffee. "Mark and I see each other frequently at tests. There, we have plenty of time to perfect our teamwork and to jointly plan the ’Dakar’ strategy," explains Ralph Pitchford.

The love of Enduro motorcycles shared by the two factory drivers carries over into their free time as well. Miller loves extensive trips on a snowmobile or on his Enduro bike through Arizona and Colorado, where he takes turns living. "In addition, I enjoy spending time in a helicopter, fly-fishing or watching the football practice of my two sons." Pitchford owns a motorcycle shop at home in Pretoria and organises Enduro tours of the South African countryside. "I recently started restoring an old motorcycle. This is an interesting and time-intensive project as I have to build many of the spare parts based on the originals myself. My goal is to participate in a historic rally with this bike some day."

When Mark Miller and Ralph Pitchford cross the starting ramp in the Volkswagen Race Touareg 2 in Lisbon in January they’re shooting for the same thing: "We want to win the Dakar Rally," they say in unison. "This event is a special challenge. All year long I’m looking forward to the start. I’m particularly fond of the roughness of the tracks and the family-like atmosphere," says Ralph Pitchford and Mark Miller adds: "Volkswagen has a strong team, the Race Touareg 2 is an excellent vehicle. Every day I will concentrate on giving my best because the 2008 ‘Dakar’ will be longer and tougher than previous years. This time it will be particularly important to try and not make a single mistake on the 15 days of the rally."

2007/11/21 | 10:40 CET | Editor: MR/HS/Volkswagen Press

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