|SA-Dakar: Volkswagen scoops top four positions - Al Attiyah new leader.|
At 508 kilometres in length the teams today completed the rally's longest stage so far. Only the forthcoming stages on 13 and 14 January will be longer. In the first part of the stage the teams had to master many opencast mining access roads and passed the Paranal Observatory - the scene of the James Bond film "Quantum of Solace".
All in all it was a kind of mini Dakar in one stage: The stage between Antofagasta and Copiapó provided a huge array of varied terrain. On the one side gravel sections requiring a more respectful approach for the material, and on the other washed out sand sections, dry river beds and canyons, which tested the navigators' skills. Several dune belts formed the crowning glory on the toughest stage of the 2011 Dakar Rally to date.
On the most difficult Dakar Rally stage so far the Volkswagen teams guaranteed enormous tension with a change of leadership. As was the case on Friday the four Race Touareg teams took the top four finishing positions on the eighth stage from Antofagasta to Copiapó.
In Chile’s most famous town since the mining miracle the Nasser Al-Attiyah/Timo Gottschalk duo took their third stage win. On his favourite terrain in deep sand Al-Attiyah replaced last year’s winner Carlos Sainz/Lucas Cruz at the head of the overall standings. The Qatari is now 5:14 ahead of the Spaniard.
While Volkswagen recorded the seventh of a possible eight stage victories, its strongest challenger fell even further behind. Stéphane Peterhansel in the X-raid-BMW is 1 hour 33 minutes behind in fourth overall.
"Today I saved my entire energy for the dune sections and concentrated solely on attacking there" said Al Attiyah. "We drove for almost the entire distance alongside Carlos Sainz, the lead changed frequently between us. In the final dune section I said to my co-driver Timo Gottschalk: It's now or never. We extracted the absolute maximum. The target was to reduce the deficit. The result is the overall lead. We must continue to work cleverly to defend this advantage up to the finish."
Initially, after winning yesterday and thus having to open today's stage, Nasser Al-Attiyah was behind Sainz. Only after the tenth of 13 way points did the professional rally driver from Qatar transform a 1 minute 58 second deficit into a 6 minute 36 second advantage.
"Today probably wasn't our day. We lost the lead after getting bogged down twice in the dunes" said Carlos Sainz. "For the majority of the time we were close to our team mate Nasser Al-Attiyah. This would have meant that we would have extended our lead by two minutes. Instead it of this we were six minutes slower in the special stage. Of all the places we got stuck in the final dune belt. This means that our role has changed. We are now hunting and no longer the hunted."
Behind Sainz and Al-Attiyah, Giniel de Villiers/Dirk von Zitzewitz ended the day third in front of their Volkswagen team mates Mark Miller/Ralph Pitchford. As a result the two duos each moved up a place in the overall standings: De Villiers is third. Miller, who led the stage at the start, is now fifth in the rally.
"Today was the Volkswagen day!" said a happy Motorsport Director Kris Nissen. "The Race Touareg ran without problems, our drivers and co-drivers worked very well. There has quite possibly never been such a difficult stage as today's. And here Volkswagen has pulled out such a large margin. It shows how good our car is and just what the occupants achieved in the cockpit. Many thanks to the whole team for this. We move ever closer to our big goal, but the ‘Dakar' is and remains merciless. We must continue to give our all."
2011/01/11 | 10:30 CET | ARTICLE: MR/SY/MOSER