Peugeot has a remarkable history in off-road competition, having three times created a team that has swept all before it at the highest level. The third triumphant coming of Peugeot has seen it blitzkrieg the Dakar Rally, a grueling 8,000 km (4,970-mi), two-week race begun in Africa in 1979 and now run in South America each January. Peugeot's first attempt in 2015 failed miserably, but a win in 2016 and a 1-2-3 finish in 2017 gives it hope of repeating the four wins in a row that the team achieved in the late 1990s. So now for the follow-up ...
Peugeot's WRC history meant it didn't have to go far into the alumni in creating a dream team of talent, and as it aims for a third straight win in the most important off-road event in the world, the team it has gathered is totally focussed on developing the next state-of-the-art car, while continuing its winning ways.
Cyril Despres (facing camera above) won the Dakar Rally five times on a KTM motorcycle before switching to Peugeot cars in 2015 – his finishes since then have been 34th in 2015, seventh in 2016, and third in 2017. He's the under achiever of the four-man team.
Stephane Peterhansel (standing at right) has won the Dakar Rally a record 13 times: six times on a Yamaha motorcycle, three in a Mitsubishi, twice in a Mini and he has taken the last two wins in the 2016 and 2017 Dakar Rally.
Carlos Sainz (seated at computer terminals above) won Dakar in 2010, but he is best known as twice World Rally Champ and the winner of 26 WRC rallies. He has also won countless major raid events, including the first two Silk Way Rallies in 2009 and 2010 when he headed the successful Volkswagen foray into Rally Raid with the Touareg.
The fourth member of the team is Sebastien Loeb – winner of 78 WRC championship events, nine consecutive WRC titles plus since semi-retirement from WRC, he has acquitted himself with distinction at the many other forms of motorsport he has attempted, winning events in the World Touring Car Championship, World Rallycross Championship and finishing second in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Loeb is a motorsport polymath.
Given the team assembled, Peugeot's challenge in winning a third straight Dakar is clearly not being taken lightly. Hence we're seeing Peugeot's 2018 Dakar contender – the 3008DKR Maxi (above) – several months earlier than last year's car, and we're going to see it under competition conditions next week in the 2017 Silk Way Rally.
If you haven't heard of the Silk Way Rally, there's every chance you'll know a lot more about it soon because television rights have been sold into 196 countries for this year's race. The spectacular 10,000-km (6,214-mi) event is 2,000 km (1,243 mi) longer than the Dakar and runs the vague route of the ancient Silk Road. The event starts in Moscow on July 7 and winds it's way across Russia and Kazakhstan to finish on July 22 in Xi'an, China.
The ambitions of the Silk Way Rally to bring focus to this history-rich region and to offer an eastern Dakar event over equally spectacular wilderness are clear – watch out for some astonishing imagery over the next few weeks.
The 3008DKR Maxi will be driven in the July 7-22 Silk Way Rally by Loeb, which is an unprecedented early competition debut for a Dakar car. The reason is that the new Peugeot 3008DKR Maxi is 20 cm (8 in) wider than last year to allow the suspension track to be increased by 10 cm (4 in) each side – it is such a radical departure from current practice that it needs to be evaluated under real conditions before it is relied upon by the whole team. The much broader wheelbase gives the rear-wheel-drive car greater stability at speed, and Loeb is quite positive about what the car brings to high speed desert racing.
"I think the car is much more stable now that it is wider, and so it feels a bit different to drive", Loeb says. "In the very narrow and technical parts that does mean it's more cumbersome of course, but in terms of stability and driving it's definitely a step forward.
"The car has less of a tendency to roll on its suspension now, so that gives you more confidence to attack and get it sideways. I'd say the strongest point of the Peugeot 3008DKR Maxi is the off-road ability that it has. With its wide track and big wheels, it can go more or less anywhere.
"It's maybe not so agile on stage-type roads: that's more the territory of four-wheel drive cars. But the
advantage of our car is the fact that it can tackle anything, especially the dunes."
Loeb will be the only starter in the new prototype, as his teammates Despres and Peterhansel will be driving the same cars that finished 1-2-3 in the 2017 Dakar Rally, and it will be on the younger pairing to ensure the team retains the Silk Way title won last year by Despres.
It will also be interesting to see how Loeb fares in the car in comparison to his teammates.