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Optic Tunisia: Volkswagen to contest Rally with new driver pairings.

Race-Touareg in the Dunes

South-African Giniel de Villiers
The Rally of Tunisia kicks off Volkswagen’s preparation programme for the 2007 Dakar Rally. In the second round of the FIA Cross Country Rally World Cup from 9 to 17 April Volkswagen works drivers Carlos Sainz and Giniel de Villiers will be driving two Race Touareg 2 cars. The driver pairings have been rearranged: The South African Giniel de Villiers, whose second-place finish in the Dakar Rally in January marked the best result thus far clinched by the Race Touareg in the marathon classic, will be running with the German Dirk von Zitzewitz at his side for the first time. The two-time World Rally Champion Carlos Sainz, as well, has a new co-driver: Michel Périn, the winner of the 2005 FIA Cross Country Rally World Cup. Jean-Claude Vaucard reinforces Volkswagen Motorsport’s tech team.

"The Rally of Tunisia with soft sand and hard camel grass tracks gives us the opportunity to test the first evolutions of the Volkswagen Race Touareg 2 for the 2006 Dakar," explains Volkswagen Motorsport Director Kris Nissen. "Particularly on desert-typical ground we want to achieve further improvements. That is why we are going to combine the rally with several days of testing in Tunisia, during which we are going to try out several equipment versions and tools to assist the drivers in the sand."

During a five-day test in Château Lastours, France, in March Technical Director Eduard Weidl’s squad, which has recently been reinforced by Frenchman Jean-Claude Vaucard, had tested several changes to the chassis of the Race Touareg 2. In the eighties, Jean-Claude Vaucard was working for Peugeot in the World Rally Championship, and in the nineties in Citroën’s marathon programme. Altogether, he was involved in eight ‘Dakar’ victories. By 2005, Vaucard had claimed three titles in the World Rally Championship as Citroën’s Technical Director.

In Château Lastours factory drivers Carlos Sainz and Giniel de Villiers split the job of testing between themselves. On five days, the squad covered a total of 600 kilometres. "We took a step forwards," says Kris Nissen. "Now we need to check the findings on long stages and in the heat and dust during the competition. Needless to say we also want to fight for victory in the Rally of Tunisia."

In Tunisia Volkswagen will be meeting strong competitors: The Mitsubishi factory team will contest the roughly 2000-kilometre desert rally with three "Dakar" winners: Luc Alphand, Stéphane Peterhansel and Hiroshi Masuoka. In 2005 Volkswagen had claimed second and fourth place in North Africa with Bruno Saby and Jutta Kleinschmidt.

Giniel de Villiers and Carlos Sainz have already had their first baptism of fire with their new co-drivers Dirk von Zitzewitz and Michel Périn. "In the test we worked together well as a team," says Périn, who competes alongside Carlos Sainz for the first time. Sainz, as well, is looking forward to working with Perin: "Michel is an absolute pro. With his experience, he’ll be of great help to me in Tunisia because this event is new for me."

Team-mate Giniel de Villiers is more familiar with the terrain. "I last competed in Tunisia in 2003, but didn’t finish, unfortunately," says the South African. "I’m looking forward to driving in the desert again and am highly motivated to make further strides with the team." For de Villiers’ new co-driver Dirk von Zitzewitz, this will be the first competition on four wheels in Tunisia. "I contested this rally on a motorcycle in 1999. As far as I am concerned, this is the most demanding off-road event after the Dakar Rally because the desert terrain gives you only few reference points for orientation," explains the 15-time German Enduro Champion.

The Rally of Tunisia includes eight timed special stages with a total of 2042 competition kilometres. The classical curtain raiser is a four-kilometre prologue in the hinterland of the French port of Nice. "This is a start with a very special atmosphere. It is a rewarding experience to be able to present our desert prototypes in front of thousands of fans in Europe," says Volkswagen Motorsport Director Kris Nissen. "The actual rally, though, starts in Africa." After crossing over to Tunis by ferry, the first African leg covering a 288-kilometre special stage from Ras El Oued to Nekrif starts on Tuesday, April 11th. Following a loop around Nekrif the route on the following day will lead along the Libyan border to the oasis of El Borma in the south of the country. In a large erg near the Algerian border a special stage will be held in soft sand. Via another loop around Ksar Ghilane the rally will lead to the resort of Djerba on the Mediterranean where the rally circus is expect ed to arrive at the finish on Monday, April 17th.

"Compared with last year, the percentage of legs leading across sand has been increased," explains Michel Périn. With five victories in the marathon classic staged since 1981, the Frenchman is the most successful co-driver in the Tunisia Rally and thus one of those who are most familiar with the terrain. "We are again in for a demanding navigation job," he comments. "As in the Dakar Rally in January, there will be no known GPS way points along the tracks. We must strictly follow the roadbook and find the invisible way points. This is an challenging and interesting task."

2006/04/03 I 16:45 CET I Editor:

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