Lessons learned for Peugeot after tough return to Dakar

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Peugeot finally returned to the Dakar Rally this year after a 25-year absence, but it turned out to be something that one could charitably call “character-building.”

The Lions came back with Stephane Peterhansel, Carlos Sainz, and Cyril Despres, a trio of drivers with a combined 17 Dakar victories between them.

But with Despres switching from motorcycles to cars and all-new 2008 DKR machines to figure out, it was unknown how good Peugeot would really be.

In the end, they would see Sainz knocked out of the event at Stage 5 and Peterhansel, an 11-time Dakar champ, finish in 11th to lead the team. Despres, who switched from motorcycles to cars for this year, was 34th.

Team director Bruno Famin said that the group’s conclusions from this year’s event were “mixed ones.”

“Speaking as pure competitors, and bearing in mind the ultimate objective we have set ourselves, we cannot be satisfied with the raw final result,” Famin said in a release. “But we are also very aware of the scale of the task ahead, so the principal objective of our first participation was just to gain experience.

“With two of our three Peugeot 2008 DKR entries on the finish ramp at Buenos Aires and no major technical problems, we can say that this goal has been reached. We’ve learned a huge amount in every area: technical, sporting and logistical. That’s fundamental for the next steps in the project.”

However, Famin admitted that in terms of performance, Peugeot’s DKRs were “not yet at the level required to be a contender for overall victory.”

“There is no lack of ideas when it comes to future development and a lot of work is already underway,” he added. “We’re now going to define our road map for the future by incorporating everything we learned from our experience in 2015.”

As for Peterhansel, he thinks there’s a solid foundation for Peugeot to do much better in 2016.

“At the start of the rally, we weren’t even sure that we would get past the second day and now we’re here at the finish without any major technical problems,” he said. “I also made some mistakes; we should have been better placed overall.

“The Peugeot 2008 DKR has very big potential but what I also saw over the last 15 days was an entire team, mechanics, and engineers who were truly motivated to give us the best possible chance – and that is great news for the future.

“We’ve got a long list of tasks and enormous scope for improvement. I’m sure we’ll be fighting for victory next year.”

Valtteri Bottas takes pole position for season-opening Austrian GP

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SPIELBERG, Austria — Valtteri Bottas upstaged Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton to take pole position Saturday for the Formula One Austrian GP.

The Finnish driver edged out the world champion by 0.012 seconds to claim the top spot for the season opener at the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg. He clenched his fist as he climbed out of his car and shared a hug with Hamilton.

“It’s something special when you push the car to the limit,” said Bottas, who is chasing an eighth career win. “Feels so good. It’s very impressive (from the team).”

Red Bull’s Max Verstappen was third, and Lando Norris gave McLaren a boost by finishing fourth. Verstappen has won the past two years here, including 2019 when he started third behind Hamilton and Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc.

“It’s going to be interesting quite a bit warmer tomorrow and hopefully this will play to our advantage,” Verstappen said. “Today, Mercedes was on a different level, unfortunately. Last year we were also a little bit off in qualifying so I expect we will be a bit better in the race.”

Bottas had the leading time when drivers embarked on their final laps and beat his own mark before sliding off the track into the gravel.

Hamilton was chasing a record-extending 89th career pole. He was ahead but then dropped off slightly as Bottas secured a 12th career pole.

“Great job by Valtteri. It’s a great start to the season,” Hamilton said. “We show year on year that we continue to be the best team. We’re open-minded … constantly learning from each other and pushing the boundaries.”

Ferrari struggled for speed, with Leclerc nearly one second behind in seventh and Sebastian Vettel failing to make it into the third and final part of qualifying, known as Q3. He starts the race from 11th on the grid.

Vettel is leaving Ferrari at the end of the season with his future in F1 uncertain.

Earlier, Hamilton posted the fastest time in morning practice. The 35-year-old British driver was also quickest in both sessions on Friday.

Midway through third practice, F1 newcomer Nicholas Latifi misjudged the exit of a turn and spun his Williams car into a protective tire wall.