Former world rally champion Carlos Sainz is gearing up to make another bid to win the Dakar Rally next month, having been robbed of victory last year by mechanical dramas.
And having had the perfect preparation with co-driver Michel Perin in taking the FIA Cross-Country World Cup in November, the Volkswagen driver is bullish about his chances in the event that kicks off in Lisbon on January 5.
Conducted and provided by the Volkswagen Motorsport press office
What does the title win in the 2007 FIA Cross-Country Rally World Cup mean to you personally?
Michel Perin: "For me, personally, this was a very nice and important exploit. The World Cup is an FIA Championship and, therefore, important. Even though this season encompassed only a few competition runs it was a successful one: We celebrated a victory at the Rally Transiberico.
"In Morocco we were running in front and only lost victory to our teammates Giniel de Villiers and Dirk von Zitzewitz on the final leg on account of a puncture. And the UAE Desert Challenge at the end of the season, we finished in a good, second place as well."
Carlos Sainz: "Of course, for every racer it's great to be winning. However, for me, the World Cup title was also a good symbol that showed how well we and the whole Volkswagen team are prepared for the 2008 Dakar Rally, as our main focus throughout the season was naturally on preparing for the 'Dakar'."
What was the best moment of the 2007 season?
Carlos Sainz: "For me, clearly it was arriving at the finish of the UAE Desert Challenge. With extreme heat and deep sand, the conditions of this rally had been difficult for me. Nonetheless, as the runner-up, we achieved a superb result and secured the World Cup title."
Michel Perin: "I felt very similar. Our strategy worked out in Dubai, we didn't drive aggressively, instead tending to play it safe when we started to the rally. Although we got stuck on the last day we claimed second place there. The entire team did a good job. For me, arriving at the finish in Dubai has been one of the nicest experiences this year."
How would you describe the teamwork between yourselves?
Michel Perin: "I can only say it's very good."
Carlos Sainz: "Michel and I have become more familiar with each other from one rally to the next. Ever since the Dakar Rally, where the two of us had the overall lead for four days, things have simply been going perfect. The rapport between us is very good and the teamwork between us couldn't be any better."
How are you going to tackle the Dakar Rally?
Carlos Sainz: "We want to use the same strategy as in 2007. First, we're going to start with our own rhythm. After arriving in Mauritania we're going to assess where we stand compared to the competition and develop new tactics. I'm convinced we're in for one of the toughest Dakar Rallies in years. The proportion of sand and dunes is extremely high, which - personally - doesn't really suit me that well. Nevertheless, we're going to try and win this rally with Volkswagen."
Michel Perin: "Our goal is for one of the Volkswagen Race Touareg vehicles to win the 'Dakar'. Of course it would be nice if, in the end, Carlos and I were the winners, but the success of the team is the most important thing. One of the toughest 'Dakars' in years is awaiting us, so it'll be extremely important to make headway.
"On the long special stages in Mauritania there are numerous possibilities to get stuck or to lose time in other ways. Also, a number of legs, which are new to all drivers and co-drivers, have been included in the route. That's why we need to focus on safety more than usual and do our best to lose as little time as possible."
How do you assess your competitors?
Carlos Sainz: "As in previous years, Mitsubishi will be strong."
Michel Perin: "With Volkswagen, Mitsubishi, Schlesser and BMW, there are as many as four strong teams this year. At the UAE Desert Challenge BMW in particular showed that they are a serious contender."
How is your personal preparation for the rally coming along?
Michel Perin: "In the past few days I participated in the navigation week during which all co-drivers from the Volkswagen team worked together closely. This means my preparations are almost finished. Up to Christmas I'll be going through all my documents very closely and meticulously check everything."
Carlos Sainz: "I'm preparing myself physically for the rally with an intensive fitness training programme, but I'm mentally preparing for the upcoming rough weeks in the desert as well."
How are you going to spend Christmas and when will you be heading for Lisbon?
Carlos Sainz: "Like every year, I will be celebrating Christmas and New Year's Eve with my wife and children and then travel to Lisbon."
Michel Perin: "I've got different plans. Together with my wife and our daughter, I'll be spending Christmas at home in France. Like last year, we'll be going to Lisbon as early as on 27 December to celebrate New Year's Eve.
"This gives me the advantage of being very relaxed at the starting location and to prepare myself for the rally without the stress of packing and travelling; and to see how the whole team arrives, one after the other."