Peugeot announces 2015 Dakar Rally comeback

Sebastien Loeb, Peugeot 208 T16 Pikes Peak

“Our aim is to win the Dakar in 2015.”

That is the bold claim being made by Maxime Picat, Peugeot CEO, following the announcement of the French manufacturer’s comeback to the Dakar event for the first time in 25 years.

Couple Peugeot Sport’s success at last year’s Pikes Peak International Hill Climb with the purpose-built 208 T16 and four previous wins in the original Paris–Dakar Rally and there’s good reason to put some faith into Picat’s words.

Peugeot Sport will create at least two 2008-based race vehicles, to be known as the 2008 DKR. A further sign of its intent is the announcement of the two lead drivers: Carlos Sainz and Cyril Depres.

Rally-legend Sainz has extensive experience at Dakar with Volkswagen, including victory in 2010, while Depres has five Dakar motorcycle wins to his name. Depres will be hoping to follow in the footsteps of Stephané Peterhansel who has won Dakar five times in a car after making the switch from motorcycles where he also took victory on five previous occassions.

In recent times Dakar has been the play thing of Volkswagen (victories in 2008–10) and since they got bored and turned to the WRC for fun MINI has ably stepped in to fill the void (victories in 2012–14).

Peugeot won the event four times in succession from 1987–1990, with rally icon Ari Vatanen taking three of those wins and Juha Kankkunen the other.

2008 DKR

Carlos Sainz and Cyril Despres

Another exciting challenge for Peugeot: Dakar comeback in 2015

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.

Following last year’s intense adventure in the lofty mountains of Colorado, USA, Peugeot Sport, Red Bull and Total have decided to set their sights on the wide open spaces of South America which provide the backdrop for the toughest cross-country rally of them all. Inevitably, the decision recalls a particularly successful period in the history of the French team which made an indelible mark on the Dakar by winning the legendary competition four years running from 1987 until 1990, first with the 205 T16 Grand Raid, then with the equally iconic 405 T16 Grand Raid.

In between times, 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, multi-year 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 20 April.

Peugeot and the Dakar: a taste for adventure

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 the 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-raid’s unpredictability when an unbelievable misadventure troubled the plans of then Team Principal Jean Todt and the best-placed 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.

Four questions to Maxime Picat, Peugeot CEO

  • “Our aim is to win the Dakar in 2015”

What is the reason for Peugeot’s Dakar comeback?
Maxime Picat: “It obviously follows in the wake of our Pikes Peak victory in 2013. That was a very special moment which showcased what Peugeot Sport is capable of achieving in association with Total and Red Bull. It was a win that gave us wings and led us to take a close look at what other motorsport programmes we could do together. The result of that process was the decision to return to the Dakar.”

Is Peugeot’s Dakar programme as ambitious as last year’s Pikes Peak operation?
Maxime Picat: “Our Pikes Peak programme was a success because we succeeded in bringing together an outstanding driver, a remarkable team and a car of the very highest quality. We have set our sights high for the Dakar, too, and the team will once again be able to count on all the necessary talent and skills. Our intention is to have everything in place for next year’s Dakar, even though our strategy is based on a longer term than was the case for the Pikes Peak Hill Climb, since we will be involved for several years. We are perfectly aware that the Dakar is a very difficult event but our aim is nonetheless to win at first attempt in 2015.”

How important an event is the Dakar for Automobiles Peugeot?
Maxime Picat: “We are delighted to be returning to the Dakar because it’s an event which enjoys extensive coverage globally. It is well known in Europe, as well as in such important markets as South America and China. It takes place in South America, with much of the action in Argentina where Peugeot has traditionally enjoyed a strong foothold.”

Why did you decide to compete with the 2008?
Maxime Picat: “The 2008 conveys a strong image on every continent. It is our latest crossover and is proving a big hit in Europe, ahead of its launches in China and Latin America in 2015. The 2008 DKR stood out as the obvious choice.”

Three questions to Bruno Famin, Director of Peugeot Sport

  • “We are very proud to have Carlos and Cyril in the team”

Peugeot Sport can look back at an excellent record on the Dakar. Will your past results be of help for your new challenge?
Bruno Famin: “The Dakar has changed a great deal in the past 25 years but you still design cars in the same way. We still have a certain amount of data from the late 1980s which we will be able to use. Above all, though, we have built up considerable experience of designing rally cars. Cross-country rallies and conventional rallies are effectively slightly different, but the approach and know-how are exactly the same. And that know-how is something we have.”

What guided your choice of drivers?
Bruno Famin: “First let me say how proud the team is to be able to count on the services of two such hugely talented drivers as Carlos and Cyril. Their respective profiles are perfectly complementary. Carlos has an incredible record in motorsport and his car development skills are well documented. In all the teams he has worked with, he has contributed to producing winning cars. His experience will be an important asset for the team, while his enthusiasm and will to win are just as exceptional. Cyril has an impressive record, too, although on bikes, of course, and he is looking forward to discovering the world of motorsport on four wheels. Judging by the way the two are getting along together, I am sure it won’t be long before Cyril is competitive.”

How did the staff at Peugeot Sport respond to the news of this comeback?
Bruno Famin: “The reaction of everyone at Peugeot Sport has been very good. The announcement of a programme for the medium term is obviously excellent news after the difficult years we have experienced recently. At the same time, the Dakar is an integral part of Peugeot’s history and everyone is very proud to be involved in this event again. We actually still have some people who were part of the original adventure, and one of them has already started working on the new project.”

Three questions to Carlos Sainz

  • “A proposal that was too good to resist”

What made you decide to join Peugeot?
Carlos Sainz: “I have often competed against Peugeot Sport in the past and I have known for years just how passionate it is about motorsport. 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.”

Peugeot hasn’t done the Dakar for 25 years. Do you see that as a handicap?
Carlos Sainz: “I don’t think so, because Peugeot has never stopped making cars of a very high standard for disciplines like rallying and endurance racing. The new 208 T16 R5 is a fine example. At the same time, I have already won the Dakar and I will be able to bring my own experience of the event in four-wheel and two-wheel drive cars to the table. We are ready for the challenge.”

Do you believe the team can be competitive quickly?
Carlos Sainz: “In motorsport, you can never take anything for granted. The level of competition on the Dakar today is very high and it’s an event that really isn’t easy to win. We won’t have much time before our first attempt, either, but I feel confident because the team is clearly extremely motivated and we will work hard to try to win.”

Carlos Sainz in brief

  • Born April 12, 1962, in Madrid, Spain. Lives in Madrid, Spain.
  • Winner of the Dakar in 2010
  • Seven previous Dakar participations: one victory (2010), one 3rd place (2011), one 9th place (2007), one 11th place (2006) and three retirements (2009, 2013 and 2014)
  • Winner of the Cross-Country Rally World Cup in 2007
  • Two-time World Rally Champion (1990 and 1992) and four-time runner-up
  • 26 World Rally Championship victories

Three questions to Cyril Despres

  • “The beginning of a new life for me”

You enjoyed a highly successful career as a biker, with five Dakar wins to your name. Why have you decided to switch to four wheels?
Cyril Despres: “It was a natural process. When you do the Dakar on a motorbike, you can spend up to 10 hours on your own every day, so you have plenty of time to reflect on different things. In fact, the idea dawned on me during last January’s Dakar, then Peugeot and Red Bull came up with this incredible opportunity. I am very proud. I didn’t take me long to weigh up the pros and the cons! For me, it’s a dream come true and the beginning of a new life.”

How are you approaching this new challenge?
Cyril Despres: “I am aware that this is a tremendous opportunity to join the car guys at the sharp end, and with a competitive and professional team like Peugeot. I’m not sure I would have made the same jump for another team. I have strong recollections of Peugeot winning the Dakar when I was a kid and I can’t wait to get a chance to drive the new car…”

Certain successful bikers have gone on to win the Dakar on four wheels. What is your objective?
Cyril Despres: “To begin with, my aim will be to learn and help as much as I can. I should be able to make good progress in a team like Peugeot and with a teammate like Carlos Sainz. That’s so stimulating. I really want to familiarise myself with the way these cars function and how to drive them, as well as with how to work with a co-driver. Sharing so much time with someone sitting next to you will be difficult because I’ve been accustomed to being on my own for the past 15 years!”

Cyril Despres in brief

  • Born January 24, 1974, in Fontainebleau, France. Lives in Andorra.
  • Five-time Dakar bike winner (2005, 2007, 2010, 2012 and 2013)
  • 14 previous Dakar participations on two-wheels: five victories, three 2nd places (2006, 2009 and 2011), one 3rd place (2004), two 4th places (2003 and 2014), one 13th place (2001), one 16th place (2000) and one retirement (2002)
  • Cross-Country Rally World Champion (2003)
  • World Team Enduro Champion (2001)