The fourth cockpit in the Volkswagen factory team for the 2007 Dakar Rally has been assigned: four-time "Dakar" winner Ari Vatanen (Finland) will contest the cross-country classic, scheduled to start in Lisbon on 6 January, in the Volkswagen Race Touareg 2.
His co-driver will be Fabrizia Pons. The Italian has been a member of the Volkswagen factory team since 2002. "We're delighted to have signed Ari Vatanen, which gives us the chance to welcome another seasoned and successful driver to the Volkswagen team," said Volkswagen Motorsport Director Kris Nissen. "In addition to bringing the experience of four victories in the Dakar Rally to the team, he's loaded with knowledge from traditional rally racing - an extremely rare combination." As early as in July and September Vatanen tested the Race Touareg in Tunisia and Morocco. "Ari impressed the entire team with his abilities and enormous commitment," Kris Nissen added. "Even in an extensive fitness test he proved that he's in top shape."
"I'm looking forward to this new challenge," said Ari Vatanen. "Volkswagen has been pursuing the 'Dakar' project with great ambition and a high level of motivation - I wanted to be part of that. In tests I've already gotten to know the Race Touareg and the team. I'm convinced that the car, the squad - myself included - will have a chance for victory." The 1981 World Rally Champion and 1987, 1989, 1990 and 1991 'Dakar' winner will be meeting an old friend in Volkswagen's factory team: with co-driver Fabrizia Pons at his side, the 54-year-old Finn contested the 1994 World Rally Championship. In 1995 Vatanen/Pons successfully competed in several rounds of the FIA Cross Country Rally World Cup. "Fabrizia was my preferred candidate for sharing the cockpit," said Vatanen.
"She's a partner I know well and in who I have complete confidence."
Fabrizia Pons, too, is looking forward to working with Ari Vatanen. "Driving with Ari is very pleasant because he's both a strong and relaxed driver. For six years, we haven't competed together so that makes me look forward even more to contesting the 'Dakar' with him and to continue working with Volkswagen," said Fabrizia Pons who finished the 2005 Dakar Rally in third place with Volkswagen.
Vatanen/Pons are the fourth pairing signed by the Volkswagen factory team. They're team-mates of the South African Giniel de Villiers, who finished the 2006 Dakar Rally in the Race Touareg in second place, and his German co-driver Dirk von Zitzewitz, the two-time World Rally Champion Carlos Sainz (Spain) and his co-driver Michel Périn (France) as well as Mark Miller (USA), who finished fifth in the 'Dakar' last January, and his "co" Ralph Pitchford (South Africa).