Volkswagen motorsport boss Kris Nissen says his works team is not taking Dakar victory for granted yet despite being two hours clear of its rivals at the halfway point.
Last year's winning squad faced strong opposition from the X-raid team's BMW in the first week of the 2010 event, but a severe delay for X-raid's Stephane Peterhansel on Wednesday has allowed VW to move into the top three positions with Carlos Sainz, Nasser Al-Attiyah and Mark Miller.
Although Guerlain Chicherit and Peterhansel in the best of the X-raid cars are just over two hours adrift of the VWs in fourth and fifth places, as the field regrouped at today's mid-rally rest day Nissen insisted VW could not relax yet.
"My assessment after the first seven of 14 Dakar days? First of all, the competition is tough, particularly the X-raid team and Stephane Peterhansel are fast," he said. "Secondly, the first half of the rally was harder than expected. And thirdly, everyone in the team is doing an outstanding job. I'm proud of each and every one in the squad. We're leading this extremely tough competition with three vehicles.
"This means that we've achieved a lot but haven't won anything yet. The following will apply to the coming seven stages as it has before: You've always got to stay cool-headed at the Dakar."
Sainz, who leads by 11 minutes over Al-Attiyah, agreed that the result was far from certain. Last year the former World Rally champion crashed out three days from the finish while leading by 27 minutes.
"There's plenty of reason to be happy, as well as a big 'but': We've merely finished half of the rally," said Sainz.
Al-Attiyah took four minutes out of Sainz's lead by winning Friday's stage and said he was still optimistic of challenging his teammate for victory.
"My co-driver Timo Gottschalk and I are within striking distance of the overall lead," said Al-Attiyah. "Even though the remaining legs will be anything but easy, we continue aiming for Dakar victory. But to achieve it, it's necessary to proceed with prudence and show no weaknesses."