After 25-year absence, Peugeot hoping for big return to the Dakar

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It’s a formidable triple threat that Peugeot has rolled out for what it hopes will be a successful return to the Dakar Rally.

The French manufacturer’s three main drivers in the 2015 Dakar – Stephane Peterhansel, Cyril Despres, and Carlos Sainz Sr. – have earned a combined 17 victories in the world’s greatest rally.

The lineup is worthy of Peugeot’s impressive, if somewhat brief, legacy in the race. From 1987-1990, it earned four consecutive wins.

It hasn’t competed in the Dakar since the end of that streak.

A quarter of a century has passed. These days, the Dakar is staged in South America. But armed with brand-new cars and tremendous talent behind the wheel, Peugeot is going all in.

“I have often competed against Peugeot Sport in the past and I have known for years just how passionate it is about motorsport,” Sainz said to AFP. “I also know that when they decide on a program, they put everything into it. I’m the same.

“Given how much I love the Dakar, it was too good a proposal to resist when Peugeot asked me to be part of its line-up for its comeback to this unique adventure.”

There are some questions, however.

The team insists its new two-wheel-drive 2008 DKR Dakar is quick. But will it be quick enough to mount a challenge to the Mini camp, led by defending champion Nani Roma and Nasser Al-Attiyah? And how reliable will it be in the grueling environment?

“With a new car like ours, it’s more likely for something to go wrong than it is with a car that is very well-developed, like the Mini,” Peterhansel said on RedBull.com a few days before Christmas. “So because of that you try to stay out of trouble and be as easy with the car as possible, to give yourself the best chance of finishing.

“You don’t have to be fastest on every stage to win Dakar. I’m not going to go flat-out right from the beginning.”

Nonetheless, Peterhansel may have some extra motivation this year.

He was part of the all-Mini podium in 2014, finishing behind Roma in second and ahead of Al-Attiyah. But in Stage 11, team orders were issued to protect the sweep, which frustrated him.

Peterhansel won the penultimate Stage 12 and took the overall lead. He figured the orders would be re-issued at that time, however, and in the final Stage 13, he ceded the point to Roma; Peterhansel ended up stopping near the end of the stage so the Minis could cross the finish line in formation.

As for Despres, he has a major task ahead of him. He’s a five-time Dakar winner in the motorcycle class, but he’ll be making his four-wheel debut in this year’s event.

It could be tough for him to hold his own with Sainz and Peterhansel. But to his credit, he is staying even-keeled.

“I’m working for a new team, with major resources and ambitions,” he said today during scrutineering at Tecnopolis in Buenos Aires. “But first and foremost, it’s a pleasure. I’ve had pressure since 2002, setting off alone on a bike in the cold, the rain, the night and sometimes under the shadow of doubt.

“This time, the focus will be on pleasure and on building something.”

Jack Miller wins the MotoGP Japanese Grand Prix as Fabio Quartararo stops his downward points’ slide

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Jack Miller ran away with the MotoGP Japanese Grand Prix at Motegi as Fabio Quartararo stopped his downward slide in the championship when a last-lap accident from his closest rival in the standings caused Francesco Bagnaia to score zero points.

Starting seventh, Miller quickly made his way forward. He was second at the end of two laps. One lap later, he grabbed the lead from Jorge Martin. Once in the lead, Miller posted three consecutive fastest laps and was never seriously challenged. It was Australian native Miller’s first race win of the season and his sixth podium finish.

The proximity to his home turf was not lost.

“I can ride a motorcycle sometimes,” Miller said in NBC Sports’ post-race coverage. “I felt amazing all weekend since I rolled out on the first practice. It feels so awesome to be racing on this side of the world.

“What an amazing day. It’s awesome; we have the home Grand Prix coming up shortly. Wedding coming up in a couple of weeks. I’m over the moon; can’t thank everyone enough.”

Miller beat Brad Binder to the line by 3.4 seconds with third-place Jorge Martin finishing about one second behind.

But the center of the storm was located just inside the top 10 as both Quartararo and Bagnaia started deep in the field.

Quartararo was on the outside of row three in ninth with Bagnaia one row behind in 12th. Neither rider moved up significantly, but the championship continued to be of primary importance as Bagnaia put in a patented late-race charge to settle onto Quartararo’s back tire, which would have allowed the championship leader to gain only a single point.

On the final lap, Bagnaia charged just a little too hard and crashed under heavy braking, throwing away the seven points he would have earned for a ninth-place finish.

The day was even more dramatic for the rider who entered the MotoGP Japanese Grand Prix third in the standings. On the sighting lap, Aleix Espargaro had an alarm sound, so he peeled off into the pits, dropped his primary bike and jumped aboard the backup. Starting from pit lane, he trailed the field and was never able to climb into the points. An undisclosed electronic problem was the culprit.

For Quartararo, gaining eight points on the competition was more than a moral victory. This was a track on which he expected to run moderately, and he did, but the problems for his rivals gives him renewed focus with four rounds remaining.

Next week, the series heads to Thailand and then Miller’s home track of Phillip Island in Australia. They will close out the Pacific Rim portion of the schedule before heading to Spain for the finale in early November.

It would appear team orders are not in play among the Ducati riders. Last week’s winner Enea Bastianini made an aggressive early move on Bagnaia for position before the championship contender wrestled the spot back.

In his second race back following arm surgery, Marc Marquez won the pole. His last pole was more than 1,000 days ago on this same track in 2019, the last time the series competed at Motegi. Marquez slipped to fifth in the middle stages of the race, before regaining a position to finish just off the podium.

In Moto2 competition, Ai Ogura beat Augusto Fernandez to close the gap in that championship to two points. Fernandez holds the scant lead. Alonso Lopez rounded out the podium.

Both American riders, Cameron Beaubier and Joe Roberts finished just outside the top 10 in 11th and 12th respectively.