Volkswagen continues with triple Dakar lead

Andrew Hopkins

Volkswagen celebrated its seventh stage victory on the ninth leg of the 2009 Dakar Rally, maintaining its overall lead with stage winners Carlos Sainz/Michel Périn (E/F), ahead of two further Race Touareg vehicles.

The 537-kilometre leg from La Serena to Copiapó in Chile demanded concentrated performance of the navigators, particularly during the starting phase, and put a severe physical strain on the crews due to long off-road stretches with hard impacts and stony sections. At first, Mark Miller/Ralph Pitchford looked like the stage winners for a long time. However, the American/South African duo lost about five minutes just before the finish because of a tyre change, but improved by one position in the overall classification. Miller/Pitchford took second place from their team colleagues Giniel de Villiers/Dirk von Zitzewitz, who lost 12.01 minutes on the ninth competition day due to a navigation error.

Carlos Sainz, who had been leading the cross-country classic for three days from the second leg onwards, then being replaced at the top for two days, has been running in front in the overall classification again since last Friday. After five stage victories, his lead over Miller now amounts to almost 20 minutes.

Nani Roma and his co-driver Lucas Cruz, have kept their fourth position in the Dakar 2009. They set the seventh best time on the ninth special in the southern part of the Atacama desert. Roma & Cruz occupied sixth place at the first control at kilometre 131 on the special that linked La Serena and Copiapó. These were the first kilometres in the Atacama desert, the highest dry region in the world, with the Pacific Ocean to the west and the Andes to the east.