“The key to the race remains the same: endurance”
As a teenage skateboard champion, Stéphane Peterhansel was captivated by the images of the Dakar in the 1980s, with Cyril Neveu and Hubert Auriol powering through the dunes in the Sahara. His talent and precocity saw him fast track his rally-raid learning curve with his first Dakar victory coming in 1991. The rider with the blue bandana won six titles in eight years for Yamaha. When he made the switch to four wheels, the motorcycle qualities quickly paid dividends: 7th in his first go in 1999, he then finished runner-up the following year, in the company of Jean-Paul Cottret. In 2004, ‘Peter' became the second competitor in the history of the rally, after Hubert Auriol, to win in both the car and bike category. The ‘Mitsu' era continued with triumphs in 2005 and 2007. Following the withdrawal of the Japanese constructor, Peterhansel joined X-Raid, but it wasn't until 2012 that he scored his 10th crown. Not at all satisfied, ‘Mr. Dakar' took another victory in 2013. A new challenge came in 2015 with the return of Peugeot to the Dakar. The teething pains of the 2008 DKR prevented ‘Peter' from attaining a result corresponding to his expectations (11th), but the project was well on its way to maturity in 2016. The performance of the French carmaker's other drivers lasted for only a week, nevertheless Peterhansel maintained his spot at the sharp end of the order just until the finish. And winning his 12th title has symbolic value. With team mates as ambitious as Loeb, Sainz and Despres to help the chances of the 3008 DKR to succeed, Peterhansel's appetite remains intact.
“On my first Dakar, I had the mindset of a soldier going off to war, both impressed by the unknown and extremely motivated. And I quickly came down to Earth when on day three my team mate, world moto-cross champion, André Malherbe had a grave accident and became a tetraplegic. I quickly understood that this was a rally not to be taken lightly and that is certainly why I have never had a serious injury.
Last year, the win had a particular savour because the Peugeot programme is something very special to me. I realized that the Dakar has changed a lot: I won without GPS, then with different navigation technologies, in Africa and then in South America and now with Peugeot! This is because the key of the race remains the same: endurance.
On the Silk Way Rally this summer I made a mistake, which I hadn't made since 2009. But it wasn't that frustrating, because I could then continue without the same weight on my shoulders. I am aiming for my 13th success, but we all know that the smallest error, we could end up being an assistance driver for the other cars in the team. If I have to make a prediction on the chances of Cyril Despres or Sebastien Loeb to win in the car category, I would say 60-40 in favour of Seb, because the South American terrain gives him a small advantage.”