Peugeot return to the Dakar Rally after a 25-year absence with 2010 winner Carlos Sainz and 11-time champion Stephane Peterhansel handed the job of shattering Mini’s hopes of a successive cleansweep.
Sainz, also a two-time world rally champion, will be racing for his third team in the gruelling 9,000km event which starts on Sunday and crosses into Chile and Bolivia before ending in the Argentine capital on January 17.
“The team has come up with a unique, innovative car which promises to be extremely versatile for the different types of terrain we are likely to come across,” said Sainz, whose 2010 Dakar title came behind the wheel of a Volkswagen.
“The concept works well. The test programme has shown that it is a very fast machine, although it is obviously difficult to be 100 percent sure of its reliability at this early stage.”
Peugeot won the Dakar for four successive years from 1987-1990 when it was still staged in Africa.
This year’s event, the seventh in South America since its enforced transfer for security reasons from Africa, is the 37th of all time and Sainz insists that Peugeot will be amongst the favourites.
“I have often competed against Peugeot Sport in the past and I have known for years just how passionate it is about motorsport,” said the 52-year-old Spaniard.
“I also know that when they decide on a programme, 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.”
Peterhansel, six times a champion in the motorcycle competition, and five times on four wheels, was second overall in the 2014 event, finishing just behind Spain’s Nani Roma.
Nasser Al-Attiyah, the 2011 champion in a Volkswagen, completed a Mini lockout of the podium 12 months ago, but Peterhansel was angry over the issuing of team orders in the closing stages of the race.
“The biggest problem we have is the fact we know we are quick -– we just don’t know how quick compared to everyone else,” said Peterhansel of his new Peugeot.
“So the first phase of the rally will be just to test our pace: to know what we can achieve comfortably or not. This is actually the most important part of the strategy, as we will base everything on this knowledge.”
Peugeot’s three-man line-up is completed by France’s five-time motorcycle winner Cyril Despres, who is tackling the race on four wheels for the first time.
Roma became just the third man to win the Dakar title on two and four wheels after Peterhansel and Hubert Auriol when he won in 2014, 10 years after his maiden motorcycle triumph.
He will again lead the Mini challenge along with Al-Attiyah.
“The first few years were tough,” said 42-year-old Roma, who made his Dakar debut in 1996.
“2014 was far from easy. However, I had absolute faith in the Mini and the team did a super job.”
The 2014 race takes the Dakar caravan from the Atacama, the driest spot on the planet, to the Iquique dunes and crossing the Andes at the highest point on Argentina’s Route 40, the 4,970m mountain pass of Abra del Acay.
“It’s going to be a marathon for everybody,” said Dakar race director Etienne Lavigne.
In all, there will be 4,600km of special stages including a 781km time trial from the Bolivian city of Uyuni to Chile’s Pacific Coast.
At Sunday’s Buenos Aires start, more than 400 machines — cars, motorcycles, quads and trucks — will set off for what Lavigne describes as “the Everest of motorsport”. – Agence France-Presse