Volkswagen has just launched the latest version of its Dakar challenger, the Race Touareg 3.
With the RT3 set to make its debut on the Silk Way Rally next month, AUTOSPORT caught up with VW's motorsport director Kris Nissen to see how confident he is that the new machine will help the German firm continue its run of success in the classic marathon event.
Q. How do you improve on this year's one-two-three result on Dakar?
Kris Nissen: I do not believe it's the right thinking to go to Dakar to think we improve on the 2010 result. We were very successful then, but the Dakar is a survival game and it's a very hard to fight with the Dakar itself. If you manage to have the car without problems, the team without problems and the drivers showing their skill, then this is the first thing you must have. I have really a strong feeling after two successful outings that we have a strong car to do this again, but our first aim is really to see if we can win the race again. We are not thinking about a double victory or a triple victory, we go there to do what we can. If we get that third victory, we are pleased. This is our target. We must be realistic, though, and accept, in 2009, we have really no competition. But in 2010 Stephane Peterhansel was very, very strong. He had an unlucky day and without that he would have been fighting for the top three for the whole race. Peterhansel will be close and a big competitor again. We are well prepared, we are favourites, but we know it is not easy.
Q. Aside from Peterhansel's BMW team, would you prefer more competition - more like the old days against Mitsubishi and Nissan?
KN: We would like additional competitors in the Dakar - it would create additional fans and marketing and, of course, if you manage to be successful with more competition then you can feel more proud. In the end, Dakar is very hard; already our four cars and an additional five or six cars can win the race. When there is 10 cars, it's easy to be top 10, but not easy to win.
Q. Would you like Dakar to return to Africa?
KN: I cannot see any advantage at all in going back to Africa. The Dakar took the challenge to go to South America and made it a success in 2009 and 2010. Now the people are not so much talking about Africa any more, they are now talking much more about whether it will be in China or India or where will it be? And we must also be honest, the race was in Africa almost 30 times. It also started to be more or less the same stages, so the challenge for the drivers was becoming less for Peterhansel or Giniel [de Villiers] or co-drivers like Michel [Perin] - he had seen everything forwards and backwards. We can find much more positive things by doing it in different countries.
Q. You are in favour of it moving Dakar around then?
KN: The ASO has done a fantastic job, we trust them and the most important thing is that we can have the great race, the safe race and the race with the perfect pictures. We can have no risk with the political situation and on top of that it would be nice to have a country where the manufacturers and the sponsors have a good market and where we have customers. Don't forget, in Africa and north Africa we are not selling so many cars compared to Argentina, Chile, China, India, North America or South America.
Q. How long will Volkswagen stay with the Dakar programme?
KN: For the moment, and since the last two years, we have a clear strategy: we have a one-year plan. But for two years, we have a good car and a good package, which means we don't have to do a lot. That makes it a lot, lot easier, firstly on the cost side - the costs are going down - and secondly it makes it easier to prepare for the next Dakar because we don't need to make the completely new car. I am confident with the strategy, I personally don't have a problem to say we will make the decision [on whether to return for another Dakar] after 2011. And the decision, like the other years, if the Dakar is in a good place [geographically] and a good opportunity, then I am considering we will continue. In this sport, we are at the highest level, so it's not like being in the third league in football. We are in the top league in rally raid with a fantastic car and a fantastic team. We have been pleased with the Dakar and we continue to be.