Peugeot announces return to Dakar in 2015 with Despres and Sainz
The French marque will return to the Dakar after 25 years of absence.
After their extraordinary adventure in 2013, which saw them smash the record for the celebrated Pikes Peak Hill Climb, Peugeot Sport, Red Bull and Total have again joined forces for another exacting yet equally exciting challenge: the Dakar. To take on the 10,000km of the world’s longest and toughest cross-country rally 25 years after the French car manufacturer last contested the event, the team has recruited Carlos Sainz and Cyril Despres.
Last June’s memorable new record of 8m13.878s for the ascent of Pikes Peak confirmed that Peugeot Sport had lost none of its taste for motorsport. After emphatically showcasing its expertise on the celebrated climb’s steep, demanding course, the team could easily have contented itself with last year’s one-off foray. However, its passion for competition needed feeding with further stimulating new challenges and the next one will be the infamous Dakar.
Since then, the Dakar has traded the dunes of northwest Africa for the tracks and trails of Latin America which are every bit as punishing for competitors and their machines. It is here, a quarter of a century after its last participation, that Team Peugeot Total will take on its next challenge with a new car, the 2008 DKR. After last June’s 20-kilomètre asphalt sprint, it’s a two-week 10,000km marathon that will put Peugeot Sport’s all-round skills to the test in January 2015.
The Dakar will naturally be the chief focus of Peugeot’s new, multiyear programme which will also include a certain number of other events in order to help it to prepare for the annual South American marathon. The team’s driver line-up stars the 2010 Dakar victor Carlos Sainz, who brings his extensive experience and car-development skills to the table, as well as the event’s five-time winner on two wheels, Cyril Despres, who has chosen Peugeot to kick off a new career on four wheels. Both drivers are eager to discover their car which was concocted by the same team that was behind the development of the 208 T16 Pikes Peak. More information about the car will be revealed at the Beijing Motor Show on April 20.
Peugeot’s relationship with the Dakar in the past extends well beyond the cold, if impressive statistic of its score of four victories from four starts. On the contrary, it is founded on the many, occasional improbable-sounding tales the French make has to tell after contesting some 48,125km of competitive action in northwest Africa between 1987 and 1990…
On January 1, 1987, all the ingredients were in place to maximise Peugeot’s chances of success on the ‘Paris-Alger-Dakar’ at first attempt. Its driver line-up included a certain Ari Vatanen whose 205 Turbo 16 was fittingly allocated number ‘205’, an ideal way of promoting the brand’s emblematic model. Unfortunately, an accident on the event’s short Prologue near Paris saw his car suffer serious damage and the Peugeot star fell to a lowly 274th overall! The rally had only just started, but the incident provided the team with a timely reminder of the Dakar’s uncompromising nature, however accustomed Peugeot Sport may have been to the ups and downs inherent in rallysport. Days later, team-mate Shekhar Mehta learned the same lesson while leading when the carefully-prepared game plan for his 205 T16 was spoilt by an inexplicable engine problem. Thankfully, Ari Vatanen’s thrilling fight-back enabled him to recover top spot and eventually collect Peugeot’s first Dakar triumph after some 13,000 kilometres of competition.
The 1988 event served to confirm the famous rally-raids unpredictability when an unbelievable misadventure troubled the plans of then Team Principal Jean Todt & the bestplaced of the two 405 T16s which were entrusted with defending’s Peugeot’s colours. After 13 stages, Ari Vatanen arrived in Mali’s capital Bamako in front, but his 405 T16 was stolen during the night! It was eventually recovered but too late & the Finn was disqualified. The win eventually went to the 205 T16 of teammate Juha Kankkunen who had been recruited to serve as Vatanen’s rapid assistance driver!
The 405 T16 Grand Raid finally got its chance in 1989 after an enthralling battle between team-mates Ari Vatanen and Jacky Ickx. To make sure their duel didn’t end in tears and scupper Peugeot’s chances, the team decided to settle the issue by tossing a coin at the overnight halt in Gao, Mali. The result favoured Ari Vatanen who went on to claim victory, despite rolling twice.
The following year, the Finn managed to build up a safety margin of two hours at the top of the order, which was just as well since he had a troubled day on the leg from Niamey and Gao, again in Mali. The stage placed the emphasis on navigational skills, but Vatanen’s codriver was poorly and his compass was faulty. To crown it all, the Peugeot driver punched a big hole in the bodywork of his 405 when he hit a tree! That failed to faze the Finn, however, and he survived to collect Peugeot’s fourth straight Dakar win.
Dakar Q&A with Peugeot's Picat, Famin, Despres and Sainz
DAKAR 2015: 13 stages, 14 days of racing!