The Touareg was the first major factory effort to bet on diesel fuel instead of gasoline when it made its debut back in 2004. The bet has paid off, for simple reasons: a diesel-powered engine will by nature have more torque and less fuel consumption than a gasoline-powered mill with a similar output - 310hp, in the Touareg’s case. A more efficient engine also means a smaller fuel tank and therefore a lighter car.
2 – Chassis
The Race Touareg is a purebred racing machine, entirely built with the Dakar in mind. That means a strong tubeframe steel chassis and extensive usage of carbon fiber to ensure structural rigidity while also keeping a low weight. Its main rivals nowadays all trace its roots back to their production counterparts.
3 – Finance
Top-end Dakar teams like Volkswagen Motorsport are like Formula 1 squads: they might tell you their budgets in detail, but then they’d have to kill you… Yet one look at VW’s position at the Dakar bivouac and its army of mechanics, engineers and support trucks tending to the four Race Touaregs shows that clearly no expense has been spared.
4 – Experience
VW’s Dakar team is currently the most experienced squad in the event, having debuted back in 2003 with the Touareg’s predecessor, the Tarek buggy. Simply put, in an event as unpredictable as the Dakar, more mileage means more knowledge.
5 – Reliability…
It is, without a doubt, VW's obsession. “Our most important advantage over the competition is that we have most well-proofed car,” opines the team’s technical director, Andreas Lautner.
"No major part is put on the car until we’re absolutely sure it won’t break down"
6 – …More Reliability…
It wasn’t always like that, however. “We clearly had the fastest car in the ‘07 Dakar and didn't win,” recalls Lautner. “From then on, we changed the quality control system completely. Nowadays, no major part is put on the car until we’re absolutely sure it won’t break down.”
7 – ...And Yet More Reliability
The first Touaregs were very fast, but lost possible Dakar wins in 2006 and 2007 (when it won 10 of 14 stages but saw overall victory slip through its fingers) to mechanical problems like gearbox failures. The team focuses plenty of effort to avoid a repeat of such scenes: the gearboxes, for instance, are changed completely on all cars during the rally’s rest day at midway point. So every Touareg in fact uses two gearboxes on its way to the finish line, and those are put to test in a tough pre-event run in the Moroccan desert.
8 – Development
The Touareg was introduced as a Dakar racer in 2004, meaning it’s now contesting the rally for the seventh time (there was no race in ’08). For 2011, the team has introduced the Race Touareg 3, an improvement over its predecessor especially in terms of cooling and top-end speed. Most importantly, that’s three generations of race car over a span of just seven years. F1-like development speeds were unheard of in the Dakar before VW’s arrival. “We develop on really small steps and test each little step thoroughly with long runs,” Lautner reveals. “We don’t take another step until that particular development had been proved totally reliable”.
9 – Shocks
OK, so now you’re convinced that the Touareg is indeed the most reliable Dakar car. But it’s also the fastest, and Lautner hints at one of the trump cards for its speed advantage: “Our suspension partner Sachs spent a lot of effort developing our shocks, which are able to withstand very high stress loads without increasing temperature too much. And a cooler shock is a more efficient shock.” Indeed, in the brutally bumpy sixth special stage of the Dakar 2011 between Iquique and Arica, the Touaregs took positions 1-2-3-4.
10 – Driver
Rival Stephane Peterhansel may hold the record for most Dakar wins, but you'd be hard-pressed to find in the bivouac anybody who wouldn't admit that, when it comes to raw speed, Carlos Sainz is in a class apart. It seems no other driver can replicate El Matador's aggressive style, which is sometimes able to make the big Touareg look as small and nimble at speed as the WRC racers with which Sainz achieved global fame. It’s not only spectacular to look at, it also produces results: the defending champion holds a 2min24s edge over teammate Nasser Al-Attiyah as the 2011 Dakar heads to its seventh stage. “After winning for the first time last year, I admit to be a little less anxious in 2011,” the Spaniard confesses. “But I still want to win it every bit as hard as in the previous years”.