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Headline: Mark Miller writing about his personal 2007 Dakar

The US-American Volkswagen Race-Touareg driver Mark Miller has written his personal summary of the 2007 Dakar Rally on his website [ ] - read the full resumee here: The 2007 Dakar rally is in the books! I have to thank everyone for their enthusiasm and of course for all the positive thoughts and wishes. Especially for American fans it is difficult to understand the full scope of this event without really being there to see it. I will tell you something that you have to believe, The Dakar Rally is the single largest motorsport event in the world.

Americans it is hard to accept that we don’t dominate it. That could change over time because I think as Americans we are positive thinking, we tend to look at the good things and not to dwell so much on the bad except to learn some lesson as to what not to do again. In the Dakar these lessons are expensive, and not just monetarily but psychologically expensive. It takes special people who have the physical and mental stamina to withstand the barrage of lessons and to look through that information and determine if there really is a possibility to excel. The key is to be surrounded by the people who have this capacity

I know you want me to say it so I will, but I want you to know it takes hundreds and maybe thousands of people for one person to make this claim, I can win the Dakar Rally. I can be the pilot of a VW Race Touareg that sits on the top of the podium. But I am only the pilot, and there is a co-pilot, Ralph Pitchford, who also has to kick butt, and a whole team of people, mechanics, engineers, managers, physios, doctors, chefs, fabricators, etc, etc, that all have to kick ass for that to happen. It’s not really about me, it’s about the team. I will tell you something else; I can’t win Dakar without the team!!! So it’s not so easy after all for an American to be in a position for all this to work out. But it is possible for me and for that I am very thankful.

There is one guy at VW Motorsport in Germany who knows all this stuff, he has learned a lot and is so smart and so passionate about winning that I love the guy. He has the toughest job of all of us, because he has to meld together all these massive egos into a unified vision and he has done a masterful job. So don’t be to critical as a fan of what you hear, just believe me, We all want to win this race and we know we can.

So the quick recap of my race is like this; We start in Portugal in front of so many people I have no idea but I would guess in the 300,000 to 500,000 people range.

The first stage I finish in fifth place on a much longer stage than normal for the 1st stage of a Dakar but it was a nice stage with lots of sandy tracks winding through pine trees. The second stage was shorter but winding through the mountains on hard pack roads and very tight with cliffs and lots of places to make a mistake. I finished 14th which was a mistake on my part but it wasn’t as bad as it sounds. I was taking no risk, there was nothing to gain and I pulled over to let Gurlain in the BMW pass me with like 15k’s to the finish of the stage, I lost 90 seconds doing this, it was sporting of me and I hoped it would come back to me later in the rally, but in the end it was the difference between 14th and 10th. Since we start in order of finish that is a big deal because on stage 3 I will start 14th, and the top 10 cars get 2 minute intervals between them, then it goes to one minute intervals. So you see it is important, especially on a stage with lots of dust to be in the top 10.

It bit me on the next morning because although I finished 5th on Stage 3, I lost 4 minutes to the first Check Point trying to make my way through traffic, after that I was a few seconds faster than the stage winner from the 1st checkpoint to the finish. But a top 5 is acceptable.

The next stage, stage 4, was really suited for me, and I enjoyed it from the start, there were the first big dunes to cross and it was a new crossing so no one really knew how hard it might be. I passed Alphand when he had a puncture, then he and Sousa passed me back when we missed a waypoint while in the dust of a few bikers and had to do a small backtrack, but shortly after all that Ralph made the right call at a junction and we passed both of them back, then Alphand and I were in a nice battle in the rough, he picked a better line and passed me back and we decided to follow him to the dunes as it is much easier to follow in the dunes than lead, it worked well to follow him until we broke the rear Differential. This means we had front wheel drive only and it is almost impossible to pass dunes this way, but we managed after losing around 40 minutes to finish the stage quite disappointed.

Stage 5 was a trek to the Atlas Mountains and we pinned it from the start, we caught Peterhansel within 50 k’s and he had started 4 minutes in front of us, he was second fastest to the first checkpoint. I am sure when I passed him he thought I was Ari Vatanen as Ari had started in front of me but had let me pass right after the start. I was in a nice rhythm and knew we were doing well. then we got two punctures within 20k’s and I had to really slow down the pace, we only had 1 spare tire left and it was too early in the race for this risk. In the end it was my mistake that I took the wrong tire pressures and it was disappointing to end up 8th on the stage after having such a big lead early on. But that’s the Dakar, you have to constantly manage risk or you will never finish.

Stage 6 was the longest stage of the rally but not so hard and after a long liaison in the morning we were one of the fastest cars to the first Check Point, Carlos Sousa had started in front of us and we were directly behind him crossing dunes and camel grass for a long time when we broke a rear differential. This time I really wanted to cry - but in the end we did our best to make it to the finish and only lost around 10 minutes to finish 9th.

Stage 7 is for me when the real tough part of the rally starts and it is for sure my favorite week, normally it is very tough for 5 or 6 days. We started in a sand storm and Ralph kicked butt, at one point there was only one car track in front of us as the navigation was really tricky, but all the high hopes came to an end at km 75 when we had a strong smell of diesel fuel and smoke from under the hood. We stopped and determined that an injector pipe was leaking and blowing fuel all over the place. Fortunately we had spare pipes but the mid engine is very hard to reach the fuel rail and it took us around 40 minutes to change the pipe and get going again. Of course now we were back with all the trucks and bowlers and buggys.

Normally it’s not so bad but we had to cross the dunes and were running into all kind of guys stuck and picking the wrong lines and so we like them also picked a wrong line and were stuck for a 20 minute dig, but we salvaged what we could from a day gone bad and at the end had an 11th place finish.

So heading into the rest day we had lost 1 ½ hours with mechanical gremlins. Giniel was doing great in the lead, and had 25 minutes on the best Mitsu. I am sure the others were quite aware that it could have been 1-2-3 for VW. Leaving Atar and the rest day was refreshing and a real chance to make some time up as it marked the start of the first marathon stage, which means no assistance, no service, no mechanics.

The day started out good enough, we were in the top 3, Carlos had been stuck in the dunes so we caught him and decided it was better if we were driving together. We did this for a long time, maybe around 150k’s. At km 175 I had a puncture and after that really took care to clean the rest of the stage, we had a few small navigation issues but in the end finished in 5th. After a sleep on the ground under a big open tent with all the other drivers in Tichit, we took off on stage 9, things started out well and we passed Nasser in the BMW then Peterhansel and then we caught Alphand, It was shaping up as a great day, then disaster for Giniel, we stopped for a moment to get the bad news, the car had caught fire, we carried on and 125k’s later caught back to Alphand in the dunes, at the same time we were following him Carlos caught and passed both of us, then we passed Alphand at the exit of the dunes and really set sail with Carlos setting the pace. Then second disaster, Carlos car stopped. We helped, we tried to diagnose, fix, push start, change sensors, 35 minutes trying until we finally had to say sorry but we must leave.

In the small picture we lost the stage win, in the big picture it was a really sad day for all of us and a day we won’t forget. No one will remember who won stage 9 two months or two years from now, they only remember who won the race.

So now I had to pin it everyday, do whatever was possible to get to the podium and I promise you, Ralph and I did, we were 3rd on stage 10 by a whisker, maximum attack. Stage 11 was not timed due to re-routing forced by terrorist threats. On stage 12 we were bushwhacking with the car and plugged up the cooling vents on three different times, so each time we would have to stop, clean out all the bushes so the car could cool off and then carry on, about half way through the stage we were slightly off track with Peterhansel on a very difficult navigation day, we found the right passage and at the end still finished 8th.

On stage 13 we were plus or minus leading the stage, this was a very traditional rally track so for me I finally was getting the rhythm against the rally specialist, until right before the first Check Point, we caught Roma and couldn’t pass in the dust so we had to settle behind him and accept his pace which ended us up 3rd fastest on the stage. The last proper stage was about the same, top 3 to the first CP and then some small navigation issues placed us 6th on the day. The pace was furious in the last few days and everyone was pushing hard, BMW made a mistake and was over speeding through a village, because of the penalty they received we moved to 4th overall. Not the podium, and for sure not first, but we made some Lemonade out of Lemons.

Ralph and I learned about each other everyday and we improved everyday. At the beginning we talked about the fact that for sure we would make mistakes but we had to minimize the time those mistakes cost us, that is what we did and we did it well. My hats off to Ralph Pitchford, he did an awesome job.

Thanks to VW! I mean everyone, they are awesome, the car is awesome, the people are awesome. Red Bull after every stage was a real treat, I looked forward to the guy at the end of the stage who would hand it to me, sometimes I would just think about that Red Bull moment! I hope I’m not addicted. Thanks to Ryan Arciero for keeping up the site and organizing the call in stuff, everyone seems to like that so we will keep doing it. And the biggest thanks to my family for their never ending support.

I want to win this *#$%#@$ race, I really do, and I know I can. So I hope you can enjoy my story, I hope you can feel for my passion, and I hope your positive thoughts can also help me to realize my potential. Only 335 days until the 2008 Dakar Rally!

2007/01/30 | 15:28 CET | Editor: MR/Mark Miller/

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