Stephane Peterhansel took victory in the Dakar Rally at the wheel of his Peugeot 2008 DKR, after holding the lead for most of the second week

Peterhansel’s victory extends his record of Dakar wins to 12, six each on two and four wheels. Peugeot becomes the second most successful manufacturer in the rally’s history with five wins (its last was in 1990) and it’s also the first win by a two-wheel-drive machine since 2000.

Peugeot was downplaying its expectations ahead of the event. It’s return in 2015 after 25 years away was little short of a disaster, the 2008 DKR plagued by technical issues. A year of intense development resulted in a practically brand-new car, but going into the event the Peugeot Sport squad still regarded 2016 as a learning year.

So to did nine-time World Rally champion Sebastien Loeb, making his Dakar debut with Peugeot. Yet it was Loeb who set the pace during the first week, winning three of the first four stages. Perhaps it was to be expected, as the roads through Argentina were similar to those Loeb had driven on the way to eight Rally Argentina wins in the WRC.

But Loeb’s rally came undone early in the second week. He lost time while stuck in sand near the start of Stage 8, then crashed within sight of the finish. He was able to limp home for repairs overnight and started Stage 9, only to lose over an hour after again getting stuck.

Loeb’s misfortune allowed Peterhansel, the only driver to get close to Loeb thus far, to assume the lead. He traded blows with teammate Carlos Sainz until the Spaniard was forced out with a broken engine mount.

From there, Peterhansel was able to manage the gap back to Nasser Al-Attiyah. The X-Raid Mini man, at the wheel of the car he used to win the 2015 Dakar Rally, had no real answer to the Peugeots’ pace, taking only two stage wins, the first of which wasn’t achieved until Stage 8. Exactly how the once-dominant outfit, winner in the previous four years, responds to Peugeot will be one of the big questions of the year.

Also searching for explanations will be the Toyota Gazoo Racing South Africa squad. The team was consistently ‘best of the rest’ and lead driver Giniel de Villiers did his usual trick of staying there-or-thereabouts throughout to take his fifth podium finish in six years. But with factory backing and a brand-new Hilux the team under-performed, failing to take a single stage win.

More impressive were debutants Mikko Hirvonen and Harry Hunt, both driving Minis. Former WRC man Hirvonen ran inside the top ten throughout the event and set his first fastest win on Stage 12. British driver Hunt ran in the top 15 during the early stages of the event before breaking into the top ten on Stage 10, where he was eighth quickest. He held the position to the end, becoming the best-placed Britsh driver since Andrew Cowan finished second in 1985.

Elsewhere, Czech driver Miroslav Zapletal was the highest-placed non-Peugeot/Mini/Toyota racer, finishing 16th in his self-run Hummer; Emiliano Spataro lead the local drivers, the Argentinian finishing 18th in the works Renault Duster; Nicolas Gibon took his first production class victory at the wheel of a Toyota Land Cruiser; Tim Coronel was the sole surviving solo driver, crossing the line 35th in his Suzuki-engined buggy; Michele Cinotto was the best ATV driver, finishing 45th in his Polaris; and finally, a shout out to Eduardo Amor who finished last after more than five days of driving.

In the other categories, Australian youngster Toby Price took his first victory at only the second attempt, riding for KTM; Marcos Patronelli took his third victory in the quads by less than two minutes from brother Alejandro; and Dutch car transporter magnate Gerard de Rooy won for the second time in his Iveco, despite strong opposition from MAN and occasional threats from the usually dominant Kamaz squad.

Speaking at the finish, Peterhansel said: “This is a huge satisfaction for us. Before the start, a result like this was far from guaranteed. My feeling was that the team was still a bit young, but in fact everything came together extremely well.

“We drove a clean rally with one day of maximum attack, and then we found ourselves in the lead with a very comfortable margin After that, it was just a question of looking after that gap as intelligently as possible. When I was competing on my very first Dakars as a bike rider, I dreamed of one day driving for Peugeot. To have joined the team and won with them is a massive source of satisfaction for me.”

Dakar Rally top ten finishers after 13 stages

  1. Stephane Peterhansel/Jean-Paul Cottret — Team Peugeot Total/Peugeot 2008 DKR — 45:22:10
  2. Nasser Al-Attiyah/Matthieu Baumel — Axion X-Raid Team/Mini ALL4 Racing — +34:58
  3. Giniel de Villiers/Dirk von Zitzewitz — Toyota Gazoo Racing South Africa/Toyota Hilux — +1:02:47
  4. Mikko Hirvonen/Michel Perin — Axion X-Raid Team/Mini ALL4 Racing — +1:05:18
  5. Leeroy Poulter/Robert Howie — Toyota Gazoo Racing South Africa/Toyota Hilux — +1:30:43
  6. Nani Roma/Alex Haro Bravo — Axion X-Raid Team/Mini ALL4 Racing — +1:41:06
  7. Cyril Despres/David Castera — Team Peugeot Total/Peugeot 2008 DKR — +1:53:04
  8. Vladimir Vasilyev/Konstantin Zhiltsov — G-Energy Team/Toyota Hilux +2:01:45
  9. Sebastien Loeb/Daniel Elena — Team Peugeot Total/Peugeot 2008 DKR — +2:22:09
  10. Harry Hunt/Andreas Schulz — ALL4 Racing Team/Mini ALL4 Racing — +3:11:30

For more information click here

By Only Motors