Nasser Al-Attiyah and Timo Gottschalk – one of four Volkswagen pairs with overall victory in the 2011 Dakar Rally in Argentina and Chile firmly in its sights. The Qatari and his German navigator form a successful team since 2009. In the previous Dakar Rally as second overall they were narrowly beaten by their Volkswagen team mates Carlos Sainz/Lucas Cruz (E/E) in the closest “Dakar” finish ever. If things go to plan between 1 and 15 January Al-Attiyah/Gottschalk aim to take revenge. In the 33rd running of the desert classic Nasser Al-Attiyah sees the ninth part as 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. “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 235 kilometres against the clock the route is tricky due to the mighty dunes of brown-red and anthracite coloured sand and their deep valleys. Driver errors here can lead to enormous time losses. Most important discipline: the so-called reading the dunes.

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 different 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 metal preparation. One thing is clear: I’m ready for the Dakar Rally to start.”