They're the support trucks for Volkswagen's Dakar Rally team, and they're the front line of support for the Race
Racing in the truck class of the Dakar, VW's support trucks travel the same race course as the lighter race vehicles, but they do it in an 11-ton truck fully loaded with Touareg spares, everything from gearboxes to drive shafts, from engine parts to electronics is stashed on board, ready for the 3-man crew to come to the aid of a stranded Touareg.
A full press release follows the jump. It's a fascinating insight into some of the "behind the scenes" aspects of the world's toughest cross-country rally.
Wolfsburg (15 December 2005) They drive in competition at the Dakar Rally, they fight for every second. Yet for the two race trucks of the Volkswagen works team, the ?Dakar? from 31 December 2005 to 15 January 2006 is not about clinching victory. The mission of the crews manning the two 500-hp MAN trucks: to be at hand as quickly as possible in case one of the five Volkswagen Race Touareg 2 cars needs help on its 9,043-kilometre way to Dakar. In the event of a defect or crash, the Volkswagen works drivers, Jutta Kleinschmidt (D), Bruno Saby (F), Carlos Sainz (E), Giniel de Villiers (SA) and Mark Miller (USA), rely on the race trucks helping them to continue their drive to the evening bivouac where extensive help from the entire team is available.
?The importance of our two race trucks is often underestimated. During the various legs they are the reinsurance of our Race Touareg vehicles,? emphasises Volkswagen Motorsport Director Kris Nissen.
During the Dakar Rally, Volkswagen will be fielding two double-axle MAN L90 race trucks in the truck class, manned by the crews comprising Klaus Leihener/Thomas Baumann/Thorsten Goldberg and Josep Pujol/Lucas Cruz Senra/Fran?ois Verbist. Unlike the pure racing prototypes with engine power ranging between 700 and 1200 hp, the 500-hp trucks used by Volkswagen are purposely prepared production vehicles modified for the desert mission by being fitted with a roll cage, rally suspension, bucket seats and a tyre inflation pressure control system.
Race trucks as rolling garages for the five Volkswagen Race Touareg 2 cars
?Our job is to complete the leg as quickly as possible with our fully loaded vehicle, without taking any risks,? explains 41-year-old Klaus Leihener, who was European Vice Champion in the Truck-Trial in the nineteen-nineties. For three years, he has been a member of Volkswagen?s team of quick helpers. ?Although the standings in the truck class are immaterial for us, our driving time is important because it determines the starting position for the next leg. This is particularly crucial due to the fact that in Africa the 80 registered trucks are mixed with the 188 entrants from the car class at the start.? And the earlier a race truck can go out, the quicker it can provide assistance to a Race Touareg.
The tasks to be handled by the crew members of both trucks have been clearly assigned: Klaus Leihener and Josep Pujol are drivers, Thomas Baumann and Lucas Cruz Senra navigators, Thorsten Goldberg and Fran?ois Verbist mechanics. When repairs need to be performed, the driver and navigator roll up their sleeves as well, because every minute counts. ?The combination of having a rally of our own and participating in a team sport is what makes the race truck particularly attractive for me,? says Klaus Leihener.
A race truck weighs ten to eleven tons, almost one and a half of which are spare parts. From gearboxes to differentials, axle components, drive shafts, engine components, electronics and spare wheels, both of the two ?blue angels? have all crucial components on board. ?The only thing we don?t carry is body parts, in this case we use lots of blue adhesive tape as a makeshift solution until the parts are exchanged in the evening bivouac,? explains mechanic Thorsten Goldberg. Since there is no service provided for the race truck, the truck crew need to help themselves in case of an emergency. ?Roughly ten percent of the spare parts are intended for the race truck itself,? says Klaus Leihener.
On the marathon legs the ?blue angels? are the only help permitted
On the evening of 12 January 2006 the helpers registered in the rally will be playing a particularly crucial role because on the marathon leg in Lab? there is no regular service permitted. Merely the five Race Touareg 2 cars and the race trucks will be heading for the bivouac in Guinea. This sets the stage for Klaus Leihener and his colleagues: ?That night we need to take care of all five rally vehicles and afterwards make our trucks fit for the next day,? he says, ?that means there?s hardly time to get any sleep.? No mean feat, considering the fact that the race trucks need to first complete 368 kilometres that day. During the 2005 Dakar Rally, for example, the quick intervention by the truck crews helped Volkswagen works driver Jutta Kleinschmidt to clinch the first podium position of a diesel prototype in the Dakar Rally. ?When we arrived at Bamako in Mali in the middle of the night after having driven for twelve hours, the differential on Jutta?s Touareg had to be changed.? Ten minutes before the start to the next leg the rally prototype was ready to go again ? and the race truck crew, as well, had to move out ? without a minute of sleep.
Quick decisions and improvisation skills are of the essence
Since the Dakar Rally rules prohibit the use of mobile phones during the competition, the truck crew never know whether a rally car needs help on a leg and where it is located. ?While we?re driving, three of us are on the lookout,? explains Klaus Leihener. ?Particularly in the dunes, where several tracks are being driven, it?s not easy to spot a parked vehicle. Yet the drivers are creative when it comes to attracting attention to themselves. Robby Gordon, for example, after rolling over in the 2005 ?Dakar?, placed his bonnet in an upright position on top of the next high dune. This made it possible for us to see from a far distance that something wasn?t right.? Once the rally car has been found, the steps to be taken next must be decided at lightning speed. ?We weigh the odds of what would make the most sense, exchanging parts, repairing defective components or towing the car to the bivouac,? says Leihener. ?We?re prepared to handle emergencies but hope there?s not much need for our help .?