*The 2008 Dakar Rally would have been an adventure worthy of a John Williams score, something I could have told my grandchildren about. Unfortunately, it was cancelled due to terrorist threats and unrest in Mauritania. The race has been threatened more times than I care to count in its 30-year history. In the past, the organizers have either re-routed or skipped stages entirely because of safety concerns. This year, however, the dangers were deemed too great and the French sanctioning body decided that, in the interest of safety, the whole event would be called off.
I was to set to participate, riding in a Volkswagen Touareg TDI support vehicle chasing the four Race Touareg 2 TDI prototype race vehicles. The teams, led by veteran rally ace Carlos Sainz, were definitely one of the favorites for overall victory. The route started in Lisbon, Portugal, covering more than 5,700 miles and five countries before finishing in Dakar, Senegal.
The race Touaregs are powered by 2.5-liter five-cylinder TDIs equipped with twin sequential turbos developing 280 hp and 440 lb-ft of torque. Which may not sound like huge numbers for a pro motorsport vehicle, but these engines are reliable for the entire race and limited by a 38mm air inlet restrictor. The level of tune is not that far from streetable. This is clearly not just a sporting event for VW, but a chance for research and development.
Volkswagen engineers have calculated that the added efficiency of the diesel engine could save as much as 400 pounds of fuel weight on some of the longer courses. That missing mass, coupled with a relatively small five-cylinder engine, also allows them to design a smaller vehicle and add driver aids like power steering and even air conditioning.
The factory suspension gives way to double wishbones controlled by dual ZF Sachs coilovers at each corner. Tire sizes are the same all the way around, at 235/85R16. The abusive conditions require stout equipment-each wheel and tire assembly weighs nearly 100 pounds. The interior of the vehicle is chock-full of everything from GPS systems and satellite phones to traditional time and distance rally computers.
The cancellation of the race has cost the competitors millions of dollars and has perhaps dealt the final blow to the Dakar Rally as we know it. Hopefully, it will come back next year, renewed and revamped. Paris to Hong Kong sounds good to me. And if those T-Regs are just going to sit there, I could make good use of one on my next snowboarding trip.