How to take on the Dakar with a brand new car

In three steps, we look at the philosophy behind Peugeot's brand new 2008 DKR Dakar challenger.
By Anthony Peacock

The Team Peugeot Total is attempting to win the Dakar Rally next month, but there are only two small drawbacks: firstly, they haven’t done it for 25 years. Secondly, they have only a two-wheel drive car – and the last time a two-wheel drive car won the epic event was back in 2000.

On the positive side, Peugeot also has the most successful Dakar driver line-up in history, led by Stéphane Peterhansel – who has won the event 11 times (six times on a bike and five times in a car). Joining him are Carlos Sainz (with two world rally titles plus a Dakar victory in 2010) and Cyril Despres (a five-time bike winner).

So how do you go about winning the toughest rally in the world, with a completely new car? We asked Peterhansel – and this is his unique guide to winning Dakar, in three easy stages.

Step one: Assess your pace

“The biggest problem we have,” points out Peterhansel, “is the fact we know we are quick – we just don’t know how quick compared to everyone else. 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.”

Step two: Play to your strengths

“You have to know exactly where you are strongest and where you are weakest,” adds Peterhansel. “Our car is a new concept, different to everyone else, so there will be places where we have an advantage. In those areas, you can push a bit harder. With a two-wheel drive car, you need a really clean driving style to get the most out of it; not too much sideways. So you have to remember this too.”

© Flavien Duhamel/Red Bull Media House

Step three: Ensure the best possible reliability

“With a new car like ours it’s more likely for something to go wrong than it is with a car that is very well-developed, like the MINI,” concludes Peterhansel. “So because of that you try to stay out of trouble and be as easy with the car as possible, to give yourself the best chance of finishing. You don’t have to be fastest on every stage to win Dakar. I’m not going to go flat-out right from the beginning.”

You don’t have to be fastest on every stage to win Dakar.

With three cars to play with, it’s likely that Peugeot will split its strategy. Sainz, who has always shown plenty of speed, could be cast in the role of ‘hare’ – setting the pace for rivals to try and catch. Peterhansel will take more of a stealth approach. As for Despres, he would be delighted just to get to the finish of his first Dakar on four wheels – so he is likely to be somewhere behind Peterhansel in terms of pace.

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