If this grand entrance was very clearly intended as a light-hearted bit of fun, then the recruitment of Stéphane Peterhansel to a driver line-up that already included Carlos Sainz and Cyril Despres leaves nobody in any doubt as to just how seriously Peugeot, Red Bull and Total are treating their new Dakar challenge. Indeed, the French driver is a true living legend in the world of cross-country rallying. Having tallied six triumphs in the motorcycle category and five in cars, he is the indisputable record-holder on the notoriously gruelling event. His talent – showcased on innumerable occasions – and his experience are vital assets for Team Peugeot-Total, which has now completed its ‘Dream Team’.
For Peterhansel – partnered, as ever, by loyal co-driver Jean-Paul Cottret – returning to the Dakar fray with this commando team is both a logical and obvious step: “I honestly feel very proud to be joining this team. When I began competing on motorbikes, I remember seeing Peugeot also participating on the Dakar and every evening back at camp, I would hang out with the guys from the team. It was almost unbelievable for me to be able to chat to Ari Vatanen! It is therefore entirely natural for me now to join the same team that inspired my dreams. In fact, I had been waiting for this kind of adventure to come along. For several years, I had been thinking how wonderful it would be if a company like Peugeot – which has achieved so much success on the Dakar – returned to cross-country rallying, and when the call came, I really didn’t take very much persuading…”
Far from finding himself seduced by nostalgia, however, the multiple champion was impressed most of all by the qualities of what is already a winning team: “I kept a close eye on the return of the Peugeot, Red Bull and Total triumvirate at Pikes Peak – not to mention the outstanding success that was achieved there. When we entered into discussions, the team’s motivation, commitment and technical resources were immediately evident. There is a tremendous level of engineering expertise here, and the working environment is first-class. We share the same fighting spirit and the same hunger for victory.”
At the heart of the team, Peterhansel very soon encountered several familiar faces – including that of Cyril Despres. Both former motorcyclists, the two men know each other well and wasted little time in proving as much by hurtling down the ‘slippery’ slopes of the Parc de Saint-Cloud together! “Beginning this collaboration with a race like that was unexpected to say the least, ” quipped Stéphane. “It was really off-the-wall and I enjoyed it a lot. In some respects, it was a kind of baptism into the great family of Red Bull athletes. It was an honour, and it also brought back some old memories for me as when I was young, I was French Downhill Skateboarding Champion!”
For team-mate Cyril – a new convert from bikes to cars – it represented the opportunity for an initial insight into the secrets of driving such a four-wheeled racing beast, and he is looking forward to more… “Throughout my career, Stéphane has always been there to lend me a hand or offer me advice, so to now find him at my side for my debut as a car racing driver is just fantastic news!” enthused the five-time Dakar motorcycling winner.
Another well-known member of the team for Peterhansel is Carlos Sainz. Since 2006, the two men have repeatedly disputed victory at the wheel of different machinery – and now they are teammates! It is a prospect that does not faze the Team Peugeot-Total new boy: “I was a fan of Carlos for a long time back when he was competing in WRC and after that, he impressed me by successfully transferring his talents over to cross-country competition. Now, I feel very proud to be in the same team as him. I am well aware that Carlos will be a fierce rival, but I’ve always had team-mates of a high calibre and who have previously triumphed on the Dakar, so it really doesn’t concern me!” The Spaniard is similarly enthusiastic about the new partnership: “Stéphane’s an extremely positive addition. He knows the Dakar like the back of his hand, and he will be able to teach both the team and myself a great deal. Of course, his arrival puts me under a bit more pressure, but that will only serve to inspire me to strive for new heights alongside my co-driver Lucas Cruz, with whom I won the event in 2010.”
With Sainz, Despres and Peterhansel on the driving force, Peugeot, Red Bull and Total have the ideal line-up. Peugeot Sport Director, Bruno Famin, is delighted: “It is incredible to have signed these three legendary drivers who have achieved so much success over the years! It is an extraordinary team, and the three of them complement each other perfectly. I hope we will be able to give Carlos and Stéphane a car that allows them to fight for victory from the very first attempt in 2015, whilst Cyril will necessarily face an initial learning curve. Stéphane’s arrival helps us to further reinforce the depth of experience inside the team and its development capabilities. This uniquely talented trio will provide everybody with a great boost to build a formidable car.”
If we add to the four triumphs notched up by Peugeot on the Dakar, Sainz’s 2010 success, the five trophies collected by Despres and Peterhansel’s unrivalled record of 11 wins, the French manufacturer will take on the next Dakar Rally fortified by the combined knowledge gleaned from no fewer than 21 victories on the event! It is a list that the team intends adding to very quickly…
Stéphane Peterhansel in brief
Born on August 6, 1965 in Echenoz-la-Méline, near Vesoul, France.
Record-holder of victories on the Dakar with 11 wins to his name.
6 victories in the motorcycle class (from 10 starts): 1991, 1992, 1993, 1995, 1997 and 1998 (all achieved with Yamaha).
5 victories in the cars class (from 15 starts): 2004, 2005 and 2007 (with Mitsubishi) and 2012 and 2013 (with Mini).
Winner of the Paris-Moscow-Beijing Rally in 1992, along with other prominent cross-country rallies: Tunisia (5 wins), UAE Desert Challenge (5 wins), Baja Espana (3 wins), Atlas (1 win), etc.
World Motorcycling Enduro Champion in 1997 and 2001.
5 times an individual winner in the International Six Days Enduro (ISDE).
11 times French Motorcycling Enduro Champion.
(Junior) French Skateboarding Champion in 1979!