Overall victory for Carlos Sainz, a podium position for Dieter Depping and seven of seven stage wins - Volkswagen started to a new era of cross-country rally sport at the Central Europe Rally through Hungary and Romania with a great result.
After previously clinching four stage wins at the new rally run by the Dakar Rally's organisers, the Volkswagen factory pairing of Carlos Sainz/Michel Périn won the last of the seven specials as well, relegating Stéphane Peterhansel (Mitsubishi) to second place overall by 2.01 minutes. A third-place finish was the overall rally début result claimed by Dieter Depping/Timo Gottschalk in the Volkswagen Race Touareg 2, powered by an innovative TDI diesel. The German duo set the day's second-best time on the final stage from Veszprem (Hungary) to Balatonfüred (Hungary), thus capturing a podium place in the duel with Luc Alphand (Mitsubishi).
At the Central Europe Rally, whose special stages cover over 1,000 kilometres and a total distance of about 2,600 kilometres, the rally resembled the first legs of the Dakar Rally in recent years. Volkswagen won all seven stages, thus remaining undefeated in Hungary and Romania. The final leg saw the unfolding of a real thriller, with Carlos Sainz and Stéphane Peterhansel fighting as on previous stages for overall victory with merely seconds separating them. The race for third overall was rather untypical for cross-country rally events and was about mere seconds as well. Dieter Depping, stage winner on the second day, kept the upper hand on the final, 155-kilometre special stage, with a 54-second lead over Luc Alphand.
The third Race Touareg that was still in the race captured a top position too - Carlos Sousa/Andreas Schulz finished fifth overall in the vehicle fielded by the Lagos customer team. However, for the two factory duos Mark Miller/Ralph Pitchford and Giniel de Villiers/Dirk von Zitzewitz, the Central Europe Rally ended prematurely after roll-over accidents on the first and fifth leg, respectively.
For the Race Touareg, this marked the eighth overall victory in 22 cross-country rally events since 2004. In addition, the vehicle has a tally of 68 stage wins and 55 days of being the leading vehicle in the field.
"The Central Europe Rally was the toughest and most thrilling rally we've ever contested" said Volkswagen Motorsport Director, Kris Nissen. "It was great advertisement for this sport and a good start to a new era. With overall results in first, third and fifth place against extremely fierce competition, we're more than happy. They show the potential of the Volkswagen Race Touareg as well as the fact that we were perfectly prepared for the 2008 Dakar Rally as a serious contender for victory."
"I'm incredibly happy about this victory," rally winner, Carlos Sainz said. "Recovering over eight minutes after our problem on the second day in this high-calibre field was a tough job. But exploits like this are always a result of teamwork as well. I have to thank Volkswagen Motorsport, my mechanics and, first and foremost, my co-driver Michel Périn from the bottom of my heart. With all of us working together, we did an outstanding job."
Tentative final results, Central Europe Rally
1. Carlos Sainz/Michel Périn (E/F), Volkswagen Race Touareg 2, 11h18m08s
2. Stéphane Peterhansel/Jean-Paul Cottret (F/F), Mitsubishi Pajero Evolution, + 2.01m
3. Dieter Depping/Timo Gottschalk (D/D), Volkswagen Race Touareg 2, + 6.34m
4. Luc Alphand/Gilles Picard (F/F), Mitsubishi Pajero Evolution, + 7.28m
5. Carlos Sousa/Andreas Schulz (P/D), Volkswagen Race Touareg 2, + 33.45m
6. Bruno Saby/Alain Guehennec (F/F), BMW X3 CC, + 46.30m
7. Robert Baldwin/Kevin Heath (USA/USA), Hummer, + 56.02m
8. Philippe Gache/François Flick (F/F), SMG, + 1h07m08s
9. Miroslav Zapletal/Valdimir Nemajer (CZ/CZ), Mitsubishi L200, + 1h12m19s
10. Robby Gordon/Andy Grider (USA/USA), Hummer, + 1h25m38s