Nasser Al-Attiyah and Timo Gottschalk ran their Volkswagen teammates Carlos Sainz and Lucas Cruz to the closest Dakar Rally finish ever last year. If things go to plan between January 1-15, 2011, Al-Attiyah and Gottschalk aim to take revenge.
In the 33rd running of the desert classic, Al-Attiyah sees the ninth part as the key stage.
"By all accounts, the loop around Copiapó in Chile will be one of the hardest during the entire rally, with lots of soft sand,” says the 40-year old Qatari. "Just crossing the dunes should be particularly difficult to master. Our prospects look good here, because over the previous years I’ve acquired my own technique to start climbing the dunes. Just how it exactly looks should remain my trade secret.”
The desert and dune experts will indeed have a day to suit their tastes on the Dakar Rally’s ninth stage, starting and finishing in the mining town of Copiapó. Despite the stage being only 146 miles against the clock, the route is tricky due to the mighty dunes of brown-red and anthracite-colored sand and their deep valleys. Driver errors here can lead to enormous time losses. ‘Reading the dunes’ therefore becomes the most important discipline.
"I’m ready for the Dakar Rally to start." –Nasser Al-Attiyah
While the drivers and co-drivers prepare themselves for physical torture in the Atacama Desert, the mechanics enjoy the only day on which they have no service route to complete.
"It’s important that the guys can rest and relax once,” says Al-Attiyah. "They are enormously important during a rally like the Dakar. To have fresh and relaxed mechanics is a success factor. In contrast, the ninth stage for us doesn’t make a big difference to those before – we have to be ready for varied terrain consisting of stony and more specifically sandy sections. I think my experience on gravel from sprint rallies will be of benefit.”
To prepare for the Dakar Rally, Nasser Al-Attiyah maintains a special ritual each year. Immediately before the tough two-week test, he spends several days alone in the Qatar desert.
"It helps me to relax and to clear my head,” says Al-Attiyah. "This year I spent four days in the desert as part of my mental preparation. One thing is clear: I’m ready for the Dakar Rally to start.”