Volkswagen made history and wrote a new chapter in the company’s illustrious motor sport history when two factory Race Touaregs, both with South Africans in them, took the top two places at the end of the Dakar Rally Argentina-Chile, which ended in Buenos Aires on Saturday afternoon.
Giniel de Villiers, competing in his sixth Dakar Rally, became the first South African to win the world’s toughest cross country marathon when he and German co-driver Dirk von Zitzewitz completed the 14th and final stage in first place and took the overall honours by 8 min 59 sec from team-mates Mark Miller of the USA and South African Ralph Pitchford.
Miller and Pitchford in turn were a comfortable 1 hr 37 min 16 sec ahead of the third-placed Hummer of American Robbie Gordon. The all-German crew of Dieter Depping and Timo Gottschalk overcame problems along the way to pull themselves back to a hard-earned eighth overall at the finish, 8 hr 43 min 29 sec behind De Villiers.
It was the first Dakar Rally victory for Volkswagen since 1980, the first by the 2.8-litre TDi Tare and the first by a diesel-powered car. It was a dominant performance by the Volkswagen Race Touareg team, with three of the four cars that started the rally reaching the finish in Buenos Aires after 15 days and 10 000 km of driving. Volkswagen won 10 of the 13 stages, with De Villiers victorious in four and Spain’s Carlos Sainz taking seven. Volkswagen led the race on 11 of the 13 racing days.
It was a particular triumph for South African motor sport, with two of its top off road racing sportsman occupying the first two places among the 195 cars that started the rally in Buenos Aires on January 3. By the finish, just 91 remained.
Spain’s Carlos Sainz, who led the race for seven of the rally’s first 10 days, was the only Volkswagen casualty. He was forced to withdraw on stage 12 when his Touareg somersaulted into a deep ravine, landing on its roof and injuring co-driver Michel Perin of France. He was evacuated to the day’s bivouac with a broken shoulder blade.
“It’s incredible,” exclaimed an excited and relieved De Villiers at the end of the final stage. I never felt this way before – I was so nervous in the last few kilometers. I kept looking at how many kilometers we still had to go. But I must say, this is an incredible feeling. I am so thrilled for the whole team, for Volkswagen who supported us for five years before we could get this victory.”
An equally excited Ralph Pitchford remarked that it was one time when coming second was acceptable. “This was a great team effort and Mark and I are very pleased with our achievement. This has been a long and incredibly hard race, but we were very well prepared and our new cars showed how strong they are. I’m very pleased for my good friend Giniel. As a fellow South African, I’m very proud of him and what we together have done for our country.”