Volkswagen Race Touareg

Above Catchpole (seated) is talked through the controls by Dakar competitor Mark Miller. Bebw: this particular Touareg's crew for the 2011 Dakar, which runs January I«16

'Whatever the conditions, these rally raid vehicles will

Above Catchpole (seated) is talked through the controls by Dakar competitor Mark Miller. Bebw: this particular Touareg's crew for the 2011 Dakar, which runs January I«16

he Atacama desert is the most arid region on earth. Iris also the focus for the 2011 Dakar rally. For that reason die main improvements Volkswagen has made to its new Race Touareg * are focused on cooling, wkh new aerodynamic carbon fibre bodywork to ensure the huge fans in the back keep the engine temperature dow n and the power up as die cars battle through the sand.

Whatever the conditions, these rally raid v chicles will take everything dial's dirowu at them, and I love them for it Regular readers will know that I'm a mild obsessive about all things rallying, so today Pm just a bit cxcitcd, because I am about to join an extremely select group of people - those who have driven a Race Touareg in the snow;

To me the Dakar is perhaps the most romantic and awe-inspiring motorsport event on the planet a proper adventure with two weeks1 worth of racing That currently rakes place in South America and goes from the Atlantic to the Pacific and back again, reaching altitudes of over 4700m along the way as the competitors cross the Andes twice (go to www.dakAT.ccm to follow all the action; It's a hugely varied rate, with soft, speed sapping dunes one day and sections where drivers will trav el for more than 30km llat-out in top gear without lifting die next The vehicles taking part vary from motorbikes to the giant and fabulous-looking racing trucks. But the overall victory is usually contested by the Class Tl prototypes like the Touareg.

Before 1 drive diis one, 1 have a chat with Gérard Zyzik, who used to design VYRC ears for Toyota (includingjuha Kankkunen's Celica, which is a car I idolised on the television). There are very few stipulations about the prototypes - die badges are about the only tiling in coiiunon widi a production Touareg

- but there are rules about the tyre diameter, the overall weight in relation to the engine size and, most iiitiiguingly, die wheel travel. I was amazed to learn that the maximum permissible travel for the Touareg7* class is just 250mm. To put this in perspective, Zyzik reckons that Cirroen's C4 WRC car had between .UK) and 320mm of travel in gravel spec.

I'm intrigued to know how expensive it is to compete in the Dakar. 'Well, please don't break itf laughs Zyzik. I Ie won't give any figures, but apparently it starts out expensive bccausc you are developing a car from a blank sheer of paper, but once you have a core car that works, you change it as little as possible because the most important thing in Dakar is reliability", so de\ elopment slows down and the costs decrease significantly. Any new part that is designed, however, has to cover at least one and a half times the Dakar race distance without any problems before it is put into competition.

My instructor and guide for the day is Mark Miller, serial Baja and Dakar competitor who

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