The countdown to what is arguably the world's most unusual rally is running: On 21 November 2008, Volkswagen will start to the Baja 1000 in Mexico with a specially designed Touareg TDI for the first time. Today, Dr Ulrich Hackenberg, Member of the Board for Technical Development of Volkswagen, unveiled the spectacular prototype for the race at the LA Auto Show in Los Angeles. "We're extending our motorsport activities in North America by a pillar in off-road sport this way," says Volkswagen Motorsport Director Kris Nissen. "By contesting the Baja 1000, we're committing ourselves to yet another discipline within the circle of the world's toughest motorsport events."
If the Dakar Rally is the world´s toughest rally, then the Baja 1000 in Mexico is its most unusual event: 630 miles - a little more than 1,000 kilometres - without any interruptions, constantly against the clock, on the most brutal terrain. The rules of engagement: there are but a few. The field: it ranges from the production VW Beetle to the 800-hp Trophy Truck in the Unlimited Class, added to which are two-wheeled vehicles and quads. Mark Miller, who is also part of Volkswagen´s "Dakar" factory line-up, and his American compatriot Ryan Arciero will take turns at the wheel of the 550-hp off-road prototype - after all, 14 hours of driving time have been calculated for this distance.
The origins: Volkswagen marks the beginning of the Baja 1000
41 years ago, on 19 April 1967, the Baja 1000 started to its inaugural round on the Mexican peninsula Baja California. The first winners: Vic Wilson/Ted Mangels in the Meyers Manx Volkswagen, the forefather of all dune buggies. It took the two Americans 27 hours and 38 minutes to cover the distance, which broke the existing motorcycle record on the route from Tijuana to La Paz by several hours. This marked the beginning of two legends: the Baja 1000 evolved into America´s most important off-road competition, comparable to the later fame acquired by the Dakar Rally in other parts of the world. And it marked the beginning of a long, successful tradition of Volkswagen products and assemblies at the Baja 1000. The technology of the robust Beetle in the hand of privateers fighting for class victory has since remained unrivalled as many as 13 times - and continues to make its mark to this day. No less than eight vehicle classes today are still open to Volkswagen chassis, engines or complete vehicles from any model year and, to some extent, even expressly prescribe the use of this technology. This is good reason for Volkswagen to complement its factory commitment by an attractive promotional programme: in November 2008 some 100,000 U.S. dollars in prize money will be offered to the best drivers of these traditional vehicle designs.
The objective: "Clean Diesel Racing" on the important U.S. market
Volkswagen continues its motorsport tradition in the USA and, since 2006 with "Clean Diesel Racing", has been proving its claim of technological leadership. In 2006 and 2007 production Touareg V10 TDI vehicles fitted with additional safety equipment contested the famous Pikes Peak hillclimb race and clinched class victory in 2007.
In June 2007, two "Dakar version" Race Touareg vehicles powered by 2.5-litre TDI engines tackled the Baja 500, the Baja 1000´s "little sister". Without a refuelling stop, the two factory drivers Mark Miller (USA) and Giniel de Villiers (ZA) completed the 420-mile distance (676 km) and achieved a spectacular one-two class victory as well as places eleven and 16 overall among 273 vehicles in the field. 2008 saw the inception of a circuit racing programme featuring the Volkswagen Jetta TDI as the first diesel-powered one-make cup in the USA.
The development of the Touareg TDI for Baja off-road racing represents the new peak of the programme for a key region: along the U.S. West Coast, off-road or sports utility vehicles (SUVs) are extremely popular. There is also a sizable aftermarket for SUV accessories. The Baja 1000 on the Baja California peninsula has acquired cult status with off-road vehicle enthusiasts. This fame has been nourished across decades by the participation of many big names in the event: Steve McQueen, Paul Newman, Sébastien Bourdais, Oriol Servià, Jimmy Vasser, Danny Sullivan, Michel Jourdain jr., Gunnar Nilsson, Roberto Guerrero, Parnelli Jones or Robby Gordon. The rally is so famous in the USA that in 2005 a documentary about the Baja 1000, entitled "Dust to Glory", hit the cinemas.
The event: mammoth proportions, improvisation and an "invisible" rival
Whether the 24 Hours at the Nürburgring with the new Volkswagen Scirocco or the 14 days of the Dakar Rally with the Volkswagen Race Touareg: the Baja 1000 has a bit of both but is even more condensed, unconventional and, ultimately, does not compare with anything else; it is a unique and tremendously big challenge for man and material. The basic rule: the rival is not sitting in the next vehicle - the rival is the track itself. The extreme Baja route has to be overcome and finished, but this is managed by just very few. Year after year Sal Fish, who has been President of the organiser, SCORE, since 1973, and his team come up with a different route. It always starts south of California on the other side of the U.S. border. The rally is staged on the Baja California peninsula, which encompasses two federal states of the United Mexican States.
The track: scree slopes, washed out river beds, trial sections, sand. And silt, which is the worst type of soft ground of all: a powdery material which can put a pitiful end even to the propulsive power of 800-hp Trophy Trucks. Start and finish of the course are in the coastal town Ensenada. For the 629.74 miles (1,013.47 km), a maximum driving time of 31 hours has been set. This track distance equates to roughly two typical stages of the Dakar Rally. Stops in terms of interruptions of the timed classification (such as between the individual legs of the Dakar Rally) or established locations for service are not provided for. Every stop made for the purposes of refuelling, driver change or repairs is counted as overall driving time. There is no official time-taking at the six control points to be passed. This means that rivals often remain "invisible" - the positions of the contenders only become clear at the finish. The route in 2008 includes many sections which have not been used for the rally in two decades.
The challenge: to perform a masterful feat on the ground and in the air
Planning for the Baja is up to the teams themselves. The technical rules: in the Trophy Truck class vehicle development is almost unrestricted, only turbo petrol engines are prohibited. Sporting regulations: practice with so-called "pre-runners" (special practice vehicles) is permitted as soon as the route has been announced, service points along the route as well as chase cars on the rally tracks are allowed. Volkswagen uses eight Touareg vehicles as so-called chase cars - the robust production vehicle with superb off-road capabilities is ideally suited for transporting mechanics, tools and spare parts. The chase cars may follow the competition vehicle on the route in the direction of travel, but may not drive in the opposite direction.
Helicopters are permitted as well. Like all top teams, Volkswagen will deploy a helicopter. The aircraft are only allowed to warn and navigate but may not transport spare parts or mechanics. In addition, a night-time flying ban for helicopters is in effect in Mexico. The number and locations of the stops are based on the following factors: the range of one fuel tank filling, the exchange of worn-out spare tyres, the scheduled driver changes as well as any repairs. Another logistical challenge: access to the track is highly limited due to trying topographical conditions - many a rough passage cannot be overcome by any wheeled vehicle in the world attempting to access the route from normal roads. Instruments for navigation (compass, GPS) and communications (radios, mobile and satellite phones) - in stark contrast to the Dakar Rally - are not limited at the Baja 1000. However, a limit emerges in a completely different way: even the most advanced technology is useless in the frequently encountered areas without coverage.
The answer: the Volkswagen Baja Race Touareg with a V12 TDI engine
The surprising success achieved with the "Dakar" Touareg sparked an ambitious programme by Volkswagen of America specifically geared to the Baja rallies. In close collaboration with the team of Mark Miller and Ryan Arciero an innovative prototype for the Trophy Truck class was created. For the first time, an automobile manufacturer dares to tackle this class with diesel technology. The rear-wheel driven Baja Touareg TDI´s power of more than 550 hp is supplied by a 5.5-litre V12 diesel engine from the Volkswagen Group. The efficient and fuel-saving TDI engine, together with a gearbox operated by steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters, promises to develop its power in a clearly better, and thus tyre-saving, way than spark-injection engines do. Whereas the fuel tank capacity of the petrol-powered vehicles is unlimited and typically designed to handle 120 to 130 gallons, the diesel vehicles must settle for 65 U.S. gallons (246 litres). The chassis, with a tubular frame and a rigid rear axle with an enormous suspension travel of 75 centimetres, follows the typical principles of Trophy Trucks. The Baja Touareg TDI is prepared and fielded by Arciero-Miller-Racing in the USA; the engine is prepared in Germany. Visually, the Baja Touareg TDI will clearly resemble the production vehicle. However, in all of its proportions the prototype is slightly ten per cent bigger than its production role model; it is practically an XL-sized Touareg.
Mark Miller and Ryan Arciero are two proven experts in the cockpit. Both have won several Baja 1000 and Baja 500 competitions as well as off-road titles in the USA. 46-year-old Mark Miller from Phoenix/Arizona is navigated by 34-year-old Willie Valdez jr. from Los Angeles/California. Ryan Arciero hails from Los Angeles/California and is 35 years old. He comes from a family that has been active in racing for over 50 years and for whose teams the likes of Dan Gurney, Phil Hill, Michael Andretti and other well-known names have driven. Arciero´s co-driver is 32-year-old Benny Metcalf jr. from San Clemente/California. The decision about the time and place for the driver change will be taken after the track inspection and strategy planning.
Volkswagen Motorsport Director Kris Nissen and Clark Campbell, Motorsport Manager of Volkswagen of America, agree about the objective: "At the Volkswagen Touareg TDI´s maiden race we want to master the route of the Baja 1000 and reach the finish. At such a tough and unusual event this would be a first success and a promising starting base for the first full off-road season in 2009."
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