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.”