Formula 1 is generally considered to be motor racing’s blue ribbon event; renowned for its glitz and glamour, graced by some of the greatest names in world sport and played out against the backdrop of the most exclusive locations on the planet. However, there is another, more rugged side to the coin, far from the prying eyes of the star-studded paddock at Monte Carlo. It is a world without crowded stadia or celebrity entourages; just 10,000km of the toughest, most hostile racing conditions known to man where your main rival is not the driver next to you on the grid but mother nature herself. It can only be the Dakar Rally. Peugeot plan 2015 Dakar comeback.
For the 2015 edition of motorsport’s answer to the Tour de France, Peugeot have announced their long awaited return to the completion they once dominated almost a quarter of a century ago. From 1987 to 1990, the French team blew away all before them, racking up an extraordinary four victories on the bounce in the legendary endurance event. In the expert hands of such great names as Ari Vatanen, Juha Kankkunen and Jacky Ickx, this period is perhaps Peugeot’s most successful to date in motorsport.
More recently though, the French brand seem to have rediscovered their taste for competition, with the 2009 triumph at 24 hours of Le Mans and Sébastien Loeb’s hammering of the Pikes Peak Hill Climb record behind the wheel of the epic 208 T16 two particular highlights. Now, in a bid to rekindle some of the old Dakar magic and emulate past glories, the team have recruited two of the best men in the business.
Carlos Sainz is universally recognised as the wise-man of endurance racing. The 51 year-old Spaniard is a battle-hardened veteran of seven Dakar Rallies, taking victory in 2010 and coming close again the following year. His glittering CV extends almost as far as the infamous race itself, with a hugely successful two decade career in WRC behind him during which he won two world championships and still holds the record for the most number of career starts. Needless to say, Sainz’s extensive experience and car-development skills will prove crucial to the Peugeot cause. The 2015 driver line up will be completed by a man with an equally enviable track record, France’s Cyril Despres. A five-time Dakar winner on two wheels, the 40 year-old will be ditching his bike to begin a new career with Peugeot in the hope of dominating on four aswell.
Dakar is of course as much a test of machine as it is of man, so Team Peugeot will have to ensure that the veteran duo have the best, most reliable equipment at their disposal in order to fully harness their vast driving skills. The weapon of choice will be the 2008 DKR, based on the company’s 2008 crossover, the obvious candidate to take on the wild trails and jungle tracks of South America. The same design team responsible for concocting the all-conquering 208 T16 Pikes Peak have been tasked with developing and fine-tuning the Dakar challenger which, based on previous evidence, provides a very exciting prospect indeed. More information about the car itself will be revealed at the Beijing Motor Show on 20 April 2014.
The Dakar Rally will be at the heart of a new, multi-year rallying programme for Peugeot, who say they plan to be involved in the event for the foreseeable future. The programme will also include a number of other warm-up events throughout the year in order to help the team prepare for the annual South American marathon.
It will be fascinating to see if the French outfit can climb their way back to the top of the tree at the first time of asking when the Dakar Rally kicks off again early next year. They certainly have the pedigree behind them and a stellar driver line-up capable of taking them there. However, whilst the cars and the pilots may change over the years, one thing always remains the same in Dakar; the unrelenting wrath of mother nature which makes this competition like no other race on the planet.