Defending champions Volkswagen hit the front of the 2010 Dakar Rally in Argentina on Sunday with Qatar’s Nasser Al-Attiyah and Germany’s Timo Gottschalk winning the team’s first stage and assuming the overall lead after the first two days in his factory Race Touareg. Spain’s Carlos Sainz and France’s Michel Perin, fourth today, are second overall, 1,19s behind their team-mates and 1m 11s ahead of France’s Stephane Peterhansel (BMW X3).
It was a good day for the five-car Volkswagen team powered by TDi engines with all placing in the top six in the overall standings. Mark Miller of America and South African Ralph Pitchford, who finished fifth on Sunday, are fourth overall in their Race Touareg behind Peterhansel’s BMW. Team-mates Mauricio Neves and Clecio Maestrelli of Brazil were third today and are fifth overall, ahead of defending Dakar champions Giniel de Villiers and his German co-driver Dirk von Zitzewitz, who finished eighth today.
Yesterday’s stage winner Nani Roma of Spain somersaulted his BMW into a gulch and lost almost 15 minutes. The start of the race was delayed by 30 minutes due to bad weather conditions.
De Villiers, one of the favourites to win this year’s rally after winning the inaugural South American event in 2009 was relaxed in the bivouac at the end of the day. “Reliability is the key on the Dakar and this year is no exception. We’re confident we have the right package. It was tough today with mist and rain making conditions tricky. There’s still a long way to go.”
Pitchford was equally at ease. “Mark and I had a good run today and we’re happy with our performance so far. Tomorrow we encounter our first sand dunes and the real race begins.”
Monday’s stage three from La Rioja to Fiambala covers a modest 182 km and represents the first real test of Dakar 2010. Conditions switch from earth to sand with a testing 30-km dune section. Temperatures are expected to rise and sand storms are frequently experienced in the area.