Volkswagen Motorsport Director Kris Nissen, who experiences his first Dakar Rally, relies on a team with a very high individual level of expertise. On the desert rally's rest day in Bobo Dioulasso the Dane takes stock of the current situation.
The 2004 Dakar Rally numbers among the toughest running of the event in its 26 year history with a retirement rate of approximately 57 percent, in the car category alone, up to the ninth stage. That Volkswagen can nevertheless maintain a position in the top ten with the leading team of Bruno Saby/Matthew Stevenson in seventh place and Jutta Kleinschmidt/Fabrizia Pons in another Race-Touareg managed to finish in the top three on two stages is, for Kris Nissen, no coincidence: "With regard to both the material and personnel we are set up outstandingly well. The two Race-Touareg cars have been running extremely reliably till now and their performances were only affected by external influences. The Touareg Competition has proven to be the ideal escort vehicle for the service team and our trucks are reliable and strong. I am more than satisfied with the personnel. There is a really good atmosphere in the team and they are highly motivated despite having to drive from dawn till dusk every day up to now and work very hard in between.”
The Motorsport Director attributes a large part of the successful preparation to several individual team members. "Jutta Kleinschmidt and Paco Crous, who is responsible for the logistics, did an excellent job before the event, along with other employees, with the planning and integrated their experiences from a combined total of 28 Dakar competitions. The time spent producing a meticulous disposition was well invested. If I'm honest: In my opinion such a performance would not have been possible without this experience in the team”, praises the Dane.
For Kris Nissen, who was previously at home in the world of circuit racing, the demands of a desert rally are as unusual as they are fascinating. "Man and machine are put under enormous stress and strain here. I don't believe that an entire Formula 1 race weekend is as hard for the drivers as a single day of the Dakar rally - and, after all the Dakar last for 18 days.” Kris Nissen again: "Independent and responsibly minded working procedures are the order of the day, at the same time the coordination of the complete team is made more difficult as the people and material become separated very quickly within a stage and over a huge area. The communication is further complicated when only satellite telephone systems work”, says Nissen.
The Volkswagen Motorsport Director is extremely satisfied with the sporting contribution of his drivers. "Choosing Bruno Saby has completely paid off. He is just as much the complete professional as is his co-driver Matthew Stevenson. Both of them have a calming effect during such a hectic event as the Dakar and completely respect the specified targets. Jutta Kleinschmidt and Fabrizia Pons are also two equally prominent as they are successful personalities. We knew that they are a strong pair and could, above all shine on the extremely difficult stages. As a result we have them to thank for a second and third fastest stage time.”
On the extremely long stages - on the seventh day between Tan-Tan and Atar a total of 701 kilometres, and two days later from Tidjikja to Néma 736 Kilometres, had to be completed at racing speed - the conceptual advantages of the Race-Touareg come into play. "Our good results on the particularly hard stages, and over long distances confirm that the Race-Touareg was reliable from the off and that the TDI-engine concept is more economical and therefore also gives us a weight advantage. Both drivers agree that the car is very forgiving to drive even over the toughest terrain.”
Hence the aim for the outstanding 3320 kilometres to be completed from Tuesday onwards remains unchanged for Kris Nissen. "Our goal is still to complete the entire distance to Dakar. This task will not be easy, as we have unfortunately lost one of the two Race-Trucks. Instead of the six mechanics normally available on the marathon stage with its limited service opportunities, we now have only three of team at the bivouac during the night from the 15th to the 16th January. I am confident that even under these circumstances we will make a good show. I am already very proud of the performance of such a strong team.”
Kris Nissen is however not only proud of Volkswagen's 43 man strong team, which set off from Wolfsburg on 28th December and is currently subject to incredible stress and strain on the African continent. "Over the last few months many employees from Wolfsburg and Hanover have worked on the Volkswagen Dakar project with great commitment. Also those who are not touring with the rally have played a large role in the success had till now.”