BAJA 500: VW Race Touareg captures class win in North American debut

Click the photo for a high-res gallery of the Race Touareg in Baja

The Volkswagen Race Touareg had it's North American coming out party this past weekend when a pair of the People's 'Ute ran in the Baja 500. The Mark Miller/Ralph Pitchford truck won it's class ahead of the second Touareg piloted by Giniel de Villiers/Dirk von Zitzewitz, with the two trucks finishing eleventh and sixteenth overall.

Perhaps more impressive was the fact the two Touaregs were the only ones among 273 vehicles in the race to go the distance without refueling. With driving force coming from a 2.5L five cylinder diesel they ran 420.11 miles on a single tank in just over ten hours. The team hasn't yet decided if they will be running the Baja 1,000 in November since they will be preparing for the 2008 Dakar Rally. There's more details after the jump.

[Source: Volkswagen]


03 June 2007


WOLFSBURG, Germany - Impressive début of the Volkswagen Race Touareg in North America: In the Baja 500 offroad classic, the factory duo of Mark Miller/Ralph Pitchford (USA/South Africa) clinched class victory ahead of their team-mates Giniel de Villiers/Dirk von Zitzewitz (South Africa/Germany).

In the overall classification of the 273 competing vehicles, Miller/Pitchford took eleventh, and de Villiers/von Zitzewitz 16th place. Volkswagen impressed particularly with its modern TDI diesel technology as the two Race Touareg cars powered by 2.5-litre five-cylinder TDI engines were the only vehicles to complete the 420.11-mile (675.92-km) Baja 500, which is considered the world's toughest one-day rally, without a single refuelling stop.

"This was a strong showing of the Race Touareg on unusual and extremely tough terrain, and this success proves its ruggedness and reliability. Both Touaregs were running perfectly, the tyres on both vehicles were changed only once – that was all," Volkswagen Motorsport Director Kris Nissen summed up the positive outcome. "The drivers and co-drivers as well as the entire team prepared themselves perfectly for this unusual task, and our special thanks go to Volkswagen of America for their outstanding support."

Race Touareg thrills and surprises fans

As early as during the tremendous parade to the Technical Scrutineering in the centre of the North Mexican town of Ensenada, the Race Touareg was the major attraction for the huge crowd of fans. This prototype, which was developed for fielding in the world famous Dakar Rally, appeared virtually compact amidst the huge Trophy Trucks and Buggies with their brawny V8 engines. After several official pre-runs of the route preceding the actual rally on 02 June, Giniel de Villiers was definitely pensive: "The track is so brutal that it will be a success just taking both Touaregs all the way to the finish." Initially, these were the sentiments of many Americans as well, but with each mile the enthusiasm for the two blue Race Touareg cars of the Volkswagen Red Bull team grew.

"It's fantastic how well our Race Touaregs were running on this tough terrain," commented Mark Miller. The American, who – with co-driver Ralph Pitchford at his side – finished this year's Dakar Rally in fourth place overall, knows what he's talking about, having contested the Baja 500 as many as ten times, with five overall Baja victories to his credit. "Of course I'm very proud being able to contest the Baja with Volkswagen and to thus demonstrate the Touareg's power and performance this way," Mark Miller added. "The fact that we achieved this success with a diesel engine that is relatively quiet but develops incredible torque and, what's more, without having to refuel even once while the U.S. vehicles had to stop for fuel two or even three times is a milestone in the long history of the Baja and proves how advanced TDI technology is."

Giniel de Villiers, runner-up in the 2006 "Dakar" in the Race Touareg, noted with surprise:
"Only on the extremely bumpy parts of the track did we have a disadvantage compared to the U.S. vehicles with their long suspension travels, as we are subject to extreme limitations in this regard on account of the Dakar regulations. Except for this aspect, we were definitely able to keep the pace and were often even faster. Due to the huge amount of dust, though, or the tight tracks, we weren't able to overtake very often. After all, we didn't want to take any unnecessary risks."

Reaching the finish after ten hours

When Miller/Pitchford and de Villiers/von Zitzewitz reached the finish in Ensenada after ten hours, they were showing obvious signs of the ordeal and the endless dust they'd been through. "It's incredible how we were shaken about over the entire distance. I can feel every fibre of my body," commented Ralph Pitchford. And Mark Miller, as well, had to admit: "That was the toughest, most brutal route I've ever driven in a Baja 500."

Consequently, the Volkswagen foursome particularly relished the celebration after reaching the finish, and patiently answered questions of the many fans and media representatives. "This Baja 500 is a huge spectacle with enormous fan support and enthusiasm. The event exceeded all my expectations. It was a great experience, a strenuous as well as a fascinating one," said Dirk von Zitzewitz in the end.

Baja history has close ties to Volkswagen

By fielding the two Race Touraregs, Volkswagen of America continued a long tradition, as the history of these rallies on the Mexican peninsula of Baja California, not far from the U.S. city of San Diego, is closely linked to Volkswagen. Volkswagen already competed in the Baja's 1967 début, and the legendary VW Buggy was guaranteed to be successful in the Bajas and became a cult car. To this day, numerous cars designed by privateers, some of them based on the Beetle, are powered by VW engines.

"During the pre-runs for this Baja 500 we even worked out new suspension set-ups, which may enable us to make further strides in the Dakar Rally, particularly in camel grass," explained Mark Miller. "Of course it would be great to also compete in the sister rally, the Baja 1000, in November. The Race Touareg has got what it takes to successfully master this long Baja as well. But at that time, of course, the preparations for the 2008 'Dakar' will take precedence."

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