Flash (Crash) Gordon Saves the Day
by John Rettie
Volkswagen pulled a last-minute surprise when it added a fourth car to the three highly modified diesel Race Touaregs it had already entered in the 2005 Dakar Rally. More surprising, the driver was none other than Robby Gordon.
The talented NASCAR/IRL/off-road race driver had never run an event like Dakar before. It was his first race where a navigator was essential, his first competing in a four-wheel-drive vehicle, and certainly his first in a diesel-powered vehicle. History says first-time Dakar contestants, even those with extensive Baja experience, can never hope to win. Naysayers bet Robby would last no longer than a few days; that all changed when he took the fastest time on the first stage--just a short 2.5-mile-long stage on a beach near Barcelona, Spain, but it was the first time an American had ever won a stage in Dakar or led the race.
Imagine everyone's surprise when he won the fourth stage as well--a much tougher 236-mile-long one in Morocco, which put him in the lead ahead of ex-World Rally champ Colin McRae. Obviously, this was going to turn into a battle between the two famous drivers, each racing in an unfamiliar environment (McRae had competed in the 2004 Dakar as a rookie, but got horribly stuck in the desert, finishing in 20th position).
Nobody was surprised, then, when McRae regained the lead the following day. It was now Gordon's turn to pick up the pace, which he and co-driver Dirk von Zitzewitz did. Then they crashed. Luckily, the VW mechanics were able to work on the rolled Touareg, and Gordon was back in the race, albeit in 112th. He had no chance of winning and was tempted to quit. But, they say Dakar gets hold of competitors' minds and the only priority becomes finishing, so Gordon kept driving. However, as part of the VW factory team, he was then asked to act as backup to Jutta Kleinschmidt, the team's star driver. She had worked her way up to third position overall by the fifth day, so Gordon found himself playing a supporting role to Kleinschmidt, digging her out of soft sand and changing tires. On the 14th day, the steering broke on her car.