The rally was won by South African-German duo Giniel de Villiers and Dirk von Zitzewitz

The rally was won by South African-German duo Giniel de Villiers and Dirk von Zitzewitz

This year's Dakar Rally was at first delayed, then relocated to South America due to terrorist threat. The first-ever iteration of the historic race to take place in South America, it will start in Buenos Aires January 3, 2009, and Volkswagen will be at the line with its new Race Touareg 2, built especially for the purpose.

Four factory teams will vie for the crown, piloted by some of the best the world of professional motorsports has to offer, including WRC driver Carlos Sainz. Power for the purpose-built race trucks comes from 2.5L TDI diesel units, rated at 277hp (206kW). The small but rugged engines are built to withstand the punishing use they'll see over the grueling 5,625mi (9,000km) course. Divided into 15 stages, the race will tour from its starting point through Argentina and Chile to the Pacific coast and then back again to Buenos Aires.

Some of the highlights that will be seen along the way include the Atacama desert, the driest in the world, with the highest dune fields as well. Two crossings of the rugged Andes mountains take drivers and machines as high as 15,091ft (4,600m), where oxygen is scarce and even a second's lapse in concentration can spell disaster. To train for the harsh driving environment, VW's team drivers have been training at altitude in the Alps. Similarly, the equipment has been subjected to torture testing simulating the conditions precisely in a lab.

Over their competition life, the Race Touareg Dakar prototypes have scored nine wins through the course of 24 events, plus 29 podium finishes, making the vehicle one of the most successful cars in the race in recent years.