Fortunately, Gordon was right behind, and he removed the steering rack from his race SUV and reassembled it on hers in less than two hours. "Without Robby Gordon and Dirk von Zitzewitz, we would've had no chance of taking third position," said Kleinschmidt at the end of the race.

Although Gordon couldn't win any more stages, he did work his way up to finish 12th overall. More important, though, he saved the day for the VW race team, enabling VW and Kleinschmidt to garner a first-ever podium finish for a diesel-powered race car.

To no one's surprise, two factory Mitsubishi Pajero Evolutions, driven by Stephane Peterhansel and Luc Alphand, took first and second, giving Mitsubishi its 10th Dakar win. Experience taught them to take it easy the first few days before attacking the rest of the field on day seven, during a punishing 412-mile stage in the Sahara Desert.

What became of McRae? He crashed on the same stage as Gordon and was unable to continue, due to major damage to the truck and minor personal injuries. Gordon surprised Europeans with his ability not only to drive fast but to work as a team player and help other team drivers finish. Expect to see Gordon back in the Dakar race in 2006. He's hooked.